Twitter levels limit itself to weekend mayhem

It’s been a few weeks since the chaos on Twitter escalated to noteworthy levels, but that changed this weekend when owner and CTO Elon Musk announced the imposition of a limit on how many tweets users can view each day.

It started on the afternoon of Saturday, July 1 with a tweet from Musk who told tweeps that harsh speed limits were being imposed “to address the extreme levels of data scraping and system manipulation”. Under the new arrangement, unverified legacy users (i.e., those who choose not to pay for Twitter Blue) are told they can only see 600 posts a day, with new accounts limited to 400 tweet views.

Verified accounts are granted the right to view 6,000 tweets, so consider that as one more benefit that comes with that Blue subscription.

It only took Musk a few hours to do so renew that total, allowing 8,000/800/400 views for verified, unverified, and new users respectively. It was followed shortly after by news that the cap was increased to 10k/1k/500, but it’s unclear if the increase was ever implemented or when Twitter’s rate caps would end.

Registration was asked about the current status of tariff caps on Twitter, how long Musk was likely to keep the caps in check and questioned Elon’s justification. Despite the fact that there’s a new CEO pouring water out of the boiler room, Twitter doesn’t seem to be reconsidering the lack of a communications team — we just accept the usual poomoji for our troubles.

Maybe it’s time for a new CTO too

Twitter has been in such trouble lately that Twitter’s CTO and chief executive Musk, who stepped down as Twitter’s CEO when Linda Yaccarino took over in the role in early June, almost entirely blames the company’s AI greed.

The data contained on Twitter, or so Musk argues, is invaluable to big AI language models like ChatGPT and Google Bard, and they have to pay for the rights to erode it.

As well as imposing a huge price on Twitter’s data API, Twitter’s tech lead also decided last week to block all users who aren’t logged into Twitter from viewing any posts, accidentally turning off embedding of tweets in other apps. Here, Musk claimed on Friday, will also be temporary.

“According to my previous post, drastic & urgent action is needed due to the EXTREME levels of data scraping,” Musk said. “It’s a bit of a pain to have to bring a large number of servers online in a pinch just to facilitate the outrageous judgment of some AI startups.”

As with all things Twitter and Musk related, the truth of the matter is more difficult to resolve.

Take, for example, the fact that Twitter under Musk has made a habit of not paying its bills to save money and trying to break even. The arguably unwise move isn’t limited to bonuses, legal fees, and suppliers — Twitter has reportedly tightened up with Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud, which also house most of its infrastructure.

Twitter reportedly owed AWS as much as $70 million (£55 million) so far in March, leading Amazon to threaten to withhold ad payments over the bird site. Twitter’s reported $200-$300 million annual contract with Google Cloud also remains unpaid. Yaccarino reportedly renegotiated the start of those payments in late June, just days before Twitter’s contract with Google Cloud was due to expire on June 30 – the day before the rate cap went into effect.

We’ve reached out to Google and Amazon for insight into the status of their respective relationships with Twitter and whether they’ve cut off access to bits of Twitter hosted in their cloud, but no word yet from either.

If it’s not unpaid bills chasing Twitter, bad coding may be to blame. A number of people claim to have found evidence that, since blocking Twitter access to anyone who isn’t logged in, Twitter’s front end appears to be DDoSing its backend.

Developer Sheldon Chang pointed out as much in a post to Mastodon over the weekend, complete with video capture from Chrome’s developer tools showing a wall of failed requests. Chang said the Twitter web app was “firing about 10 requests per second for itself to try and fetch content that never arrived,” which he said likely created “states of hell engineers could never imagine.”

The problem is even worse on Tweetdeck, according to to Molly White, who posted a similar video about Chrome’s dev tools that was filled with 404 warnings when Tweetdeck tried to fetch content that would normally be available to non-logged-in Twitter visitors.

That’s certainly a good reason to introduce rate caps, but like unpaid bills, it’s unclear whether Twitter’s move was also the reason behind the weekend’s chaos. We asked that question too, and have to hope Yaccarino decides to turn the other way around Musk’s decision. ®


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