Twitter users who read too many tweets may find their supply cut off at a certain point. And you can thank Elon Musk for that.
On Saturday, the Twitter owner tweeted that rate limits would be temporarily imposed for users, meaning a restriction on the number of tweets you can read per day. To justify the new scheme, Musk blamed data scraping and system manipulation in which bots and external services grab huge amounts of Twitter data for their own purposes.
But confusion quickly arose as Musk kept changing the limits. In his first tweet on Saturday, he said that verified accounts would be limited to reading 6,000 posts per day, unverified accounts 600 a day, and new unverified accounts 300 per day. A verified account is one that shells out the $8 a month or $84 a year for a Twitter Blue subscription, while unverified accounts are ones that use Twitter for free.
But later that same day, Musk amended the numbers by tweeting that verified accounts would be able to read 8,000 tweets per day, unverified accounts 800 per day, and new unverified accounts 400 per day. But wait, there's still more. In a third tweet that same day, the Twitter CEO said the limits would be 10,000 per day for verified users, 1,000 per day for unverified users, and 500 per day for new unverified users.
Many Twitter users also started asking questions, such as how does the company determine if a tweet is read, how do we keep track of how many tweets we read, what qualifies as a new unverified account, and how long will these temporary limits be in effect?
"Elon, if I close my eyes and skip past some, will they still count towards my 6,000?" asked one user. "Can we have a Ticker that shows how many we have viewed?" asked another.
Amid the temporary new limits, many Twitter users started grumbling that they couldn't use the service to read tweets, posting screenshots that said: "Rate limit exceeded." The downtime led to complaints of a Twitter outage on Saturday from a host of people, as reported by sites like DownDetector.
Prior to the announcement of the new limits, Musk had already signaled his concern about data scraping. In a Friday tweet, he said that several hundred or more organizations had been aggressively scraping Twitter data to the point that it was affecting the user experience. Asking what Twitter should do to stop that, he said that he was open to ideas.
Musk's latest gripes about data scraping have focused on AI companies like OpenAI that capture a huge volume of data from sites like Twitter to use to train their chatbots. "Almost every company doing AI, from startups to some of the biggest corporations on Earth, was scraping vast amounts of data," Musk said in another Friday tweet. "It is rather galling to have to bring large numbers of servers online on an emergency basis just to facilitate some AI startup's outrageous valuation."
On Tuesday, new Twitter CEO Linda Yaccarino backed the new rate limits, saying that a company on a mission like Twitter needs to make big moves to strengthen its platform. Yaccarino also pointed to a new blog post from Twitter that attempted to better explain the restrictions.
"To ensure the authenticity of our user base we must take extreme measures to remove spam and bots from our platform," the post said. "That's why we temporarily limited usage so we could detect and eliminate bots and other bad actors that are harming the platform. Any advance notice on these actions would have allowed bad actors to alter their behavior to evade detection."
The goal is to prevent external accounts from scraping public Twitter data to build AI models and to manipulate people and conversation on the platform, the post said, adding that the restrictions "affect a small percentage of people using the platform."
But the rate limits may be triggering other problems beyond disgruntled users. On Saturday, a developer named Sheldon Chang posted a message on Mastodon claiming that Twitter was DDOSing itself, meaning sending its own website Distributed Denial of Service signals that can stall a site's performance, preventing it from responding to legitimate traffic. And Chang blamed the DDOS on the new limitations.
"Twitter is firing off about 10 requests a second to itself to try and fetch content that never arrives because Elon's latest genius innovation is to block people from being able to read Twitter without logging in," Chang said. "This likely created some hellish conditions that the engineers never envisioned and so we get this comedy of errors resulting in the most epic of self-owns, the self-DDOS."
We sent an email to Twitter's press contact address asking for commentary about the rate limits and the DDOS issue. In response, Twitter sent us an automated reply with nothing but a poop emoji, Musk's way of answering questions from the press following the firing of the company's public relations group.