X (aka Twitter) was caught throttling competitors and news services

Elon Musk had been targeting rival social networks and news sites he dislikes with a five-second delay.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

The slow connections weren't your imagination.

Baweg/Getty Images

If you thought your connections from X, the site formerly known as Twitter, to Facebook, Instagram, Bluesky, Substack, Reuters, and The New York Times were a bit slow recently, it wasn't your imagination. The Washington Post discovered that X was delaying connections to these sites by five seconds

Five seconds is an internet eternity. 

An eyeblink -- 400 milliseconds to the technically minded -- is enough to annoy most users. According to Hobo SEO Consultancy, just a two-second delay in load time is enough for 87% of users to abandon a link.

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Because of this, there's an entire industry of content delivery networks, with companies such as Akamai, CloudFlare, and Fastly devoted to making sure that your pages load in under half a second.

What X did to these sites was business poison. As Iron/Out Web Performance Consultant Sander van Surksum wrote, "For businesses, such intentional slowdowns can spell disaster. In a digital landscape where every second counts, a platform as influential as 'X' holding the reins of user access can drastically shift web traffic and, consequently, revenue."

X did this by implementing a slowdown in its link-shortening service, t.co. Whenever you click a link on X, it's first processed by t.co. Like most link-shortening services, t.co. is used -- normally -- to make internet traffic management easier and to track you through the web. We now know that a site like X can also use it to slow down traffic to a targeted website. To the best of my knowledge, no social network has ever done this before. 

It appears that X had been doing this with some sites for weeks. The practice was first reported when a user ran into the delay while trying to get to a Meta Threads link not long after the new social network opened its doors. 

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The news site delays were first reported on Ycombinator. There, a user said, "Go to Twitter and click on a link going to any URL on 'NYTimes.com' or 'threads.net' and you'll see about a ~5-second delay before t.co forwards you to the right address. Twitter won't ban domains they don't like but will waste your time if you visit them. I've been tracking the NYT delay ever since it was added (8/4, roughly noon Pacific time), and the delay is so consistent it's obviously deliberate."

In a statement, the Times said it had "made similar observations of our own" about the systemic delays and had "not received any explanation from the platform about this move."

When asked about these reports, X replied with a poop emoji. Elon Musk himself has not responded to any queries, nor has he mentioned anything about the delays on Twitter. 

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However, we do know that the sites subject to these throttling delays were the same sites that Musk has ridiculed or attacked recently. Many of these sites are, or have been, X customers. 

After The Washington Post made these delays public, the sites were back to connecting at normal speeds.  

This news arrives while X continues to bleed money. Despite reports of X not paying its bills, the site also is reported to be closing down at least one of its revenue streams -- promoted accounts. This program enables customers to promote their accounts within the platform's timeline to attract new followers. 

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