Elon Musk’s Twitter/X is reportedly throttling web links to critical news outlets as well as competitor apps
Twitter/X is reportedly applying a five second delay to news publications critical of Elon Musk, as well as rival social media apps.
Sites that Musk commonly attacks are witnessing the throttling of web links from Twitter. Impacted sites include the New York Times, Reuters, Instagram, Facebook, Threads and Jack Dorsey’s Blue Sky, analysis by the Washington Post has found.
Users who clicked a link on Musk’s website for one of the targeted websites were made to wait about five seconds before seeing the page, according to tests conducted Tuesday by The Washington Post.
It reported that on Tuesday afternoon, hours after this story was first published, X began reversing the throttling on some of the sites, dropping the delay times back to zero.
According to the Post, the delay affected the t.co domain, a link-shortening service that X uses to process every link posted to the website. Traffic is routed through the domain, allowing X to track – and, in this case, throttle – activity to the target website, potentially taking away traffic and ad revenue from businesses Musk personally dislikes.
The Post’s analysis found that links to most other sites were unaffected – including those to The Washington Post, Fox News and social media services such as Mastodon and YouTube – with the shortened links being routed to their final destination in a second or less.
It comes after a user had first flagged the delays early Tuesday on the technology discussion forum Hacker News.
The delay has also been noted by others.
— Max Woolf (@minimaxir) August 15, 2023
No reason given
Charlie Stadtlander, a spokesman for the Times, told the Post in a statement that the news outlet has “made similar observations of our own” about the systemic delays and “not received any explanation from the platform about this move.”
“While we don’t know the rationale behind the application of this time delay, we would be concerned by targeted pressure applied to any news organisation for unclear reasons,” he was quoted as saying by the Post.
Meanwhile Substack’s co-founders Chris Best, Hamish McKenzie and Jairaj Sethi reportedly said in a statement to The Post that they urged X to reverse the decision instituting a delay on Substack links.
Throttling links like this can be damaging, as publishers work hard to ensure their websites load as quickly as possible, as small delays can badly impact traffic.
The Post for example cited a Google study of mobile traffic in 2016 that found that 53 percent of users abandoned a website if it took longer than three seconds to load.
A person familiar with the Times’s operations said the news organisation had seen a drop in traffic from X since the delays began, the Post noted.
Too crazy to be true?
Meanwhile Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of trust and safety, posted on Bluesky on Tuesday that the delays seemed like “one of those things that seems too crazy to be true, even for Twitter,” but that he was able to replicate the issue through his own test. “Delays are annoying enough, even subconsciously, to drive people away,” he was quoted as saying.
Yoel Roth does has history with Elon Musk.
His departure last November was surprising as he had emerged as part of Musk’s new leadership team of Twitter 2.0, amid the chaos of the Musk takeover.
But worse was to follow for Roth after he resigned.
Mainstream media outlets included the Washington Post, CNN etc, reported that Roth and his family had been forced to flee their home after Elon Musk’s tweets had misrepresented Roth’s academic writing about sexual activity and children.
An online mob of Musk supporters reportedly sent threats to people Roth had replied to on Twitter, reportedly forcing some of Roth’s family and friends to delete their Twitter accounts.
Musk’s followers also reportedly directed harassment at professors who reviewed the dissertation that Roth wrote in 2016, as well as at his graduate school, the University of Pennsylvania.