The targeted sites were subjected to a noticeable five-second delay.
Elon Musk‘s social media platform X, formerly Twitter, has stirred up a digital storm by intentionally slowing down access to certain websites, setting off debates about online power dynamics and user manipulation. The targeted sites, which include heavyweights like The New York Times, Instagram, Facebook, Bluesky, Threads, Reuters, and Substack, were subjected to a noticeable five-second delay when users tried to access links originating from X. The timing of the controversial move raised eyebrows, especially given Musk’s history of publicly expressing his disapproval of these platforms.
Slowing down traffic to specific websites raises critical questions about the role of platforms in shaping user experiences and the potential impact on the businesses being targeted. Even a minor delay can drastically affect user engagement and ultimately influence ad revenue for these platforms. Users have grown accustomed to near-instantaneous loading times, and such delays can lead to impatience and frustration.
YouTube and Fox News Remain Unaffected
On August 15, tech enthusiasts at Hackers News discovered that X had slowed down access to certain websites on Tuesday afternoon. Interestingly, the throttling strategy appears to selectively target websites that have faced Musk’s previous ire in the past.
According to the Washington Post, links to sites like Fox News, The Washington Post, and social media platforms such as Mastodon and YouTube remained unaffected. The move raises concerns about the ethics of using a platform to indirectly suppress competitors or platforms one disagrees with.
The former head of trust and safety at Twitter, Yoel Roth, chimed in on the matter, describing the event as “one of those things that seem too crazy to be true, even for Twitter, until you see it inexplicably takes 5 seconds for Chrome to receive 650 bytes of data”.
According to him, this seemingly innocuous delay can have far-reaching implications, as research shows that even a 1-second delay can significantly impact user behavior, leading to higher bounce rates and less time spent on the site.
A touch of drama was added when Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta Platforms, the conglomerate behind Facebook, Instagram, and Threads, responded to a Threads post discussing the throttling with a contemplative “thinking face emoji”. The gesture comes amidst an ongoing feud between Musk and Zuckerberg, with Musk previously suggesting a real-life face-off in a cage match.
X Restores Access to Affected Platforms
Musk’s influence over X’s operations has manifested in the past, blocking links to competitors like Substack and Threads and removing The New York Times’ verification ticker while labeling it as “propaganda”.
The platform has remained tight-lipped in response to the throttling controversy, maintaining a trend of non-responsiveness since Musk took over the company.
However, in a twist of events, X is gradually reversing the throttling tactics, with the delay in accessing news sites showing signs of improvement. According to the Post, the newly rebranded platform has completely restored the delay time to zero.