While there have been countless crises at Twitter since Elon Musk completed his acquisition of the site in October 2022, this long weekend’s “rate limits” discussion seemed like it might be the straw that broke the camel’s back for many. Quite unexpectedly Saturday, many users started reporting being locked out of the site with “you have exceeded your rate limit” messages. A lot of theories popped up on this, from errors arising from Twitter’s own call routines for people trying to view the site without being logged in to a lack of payment to server hosts to an intentional move. But Musk, in a couple of tweets Saturday, claimed it was intentional “to address extreme levels of data scraping & system manipulation,” said the limits were “temporary,” but then only mentioned small increases (especially for those who don’t pay $8 a month for Twitter Blue verification):
To address extreme levels of data scraping & system manipulation, we’ve applied the following temporary limits:
– Verified accounts are limited to reading 6000 posts/day
– Unverified accounts to 600 posts/day
– New unverified accounts to 300/day
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 1, 2023
Now to 10k, 1k & 0.5k
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 1, 2023
The limits here seemed to pose some of the biggest issues yet for those who use Twitter to follow, discuss, or relay news and commentary on sports. And the frenetic amount of and pace of tweets during major sports events seemed like a particular hurdle for this policy. And countless sports fans, journalists and more complained about this (and subsequent Tweetdeck changes killing the ability to access multiple accounts through that service, at least for now, and plans to make that service Twitter Blue-only in 30 days) vociferously, with many talking about migrating to new service Bluesky.
Meanwhile, Musk didn’t offer much on the full plan here beyond his tweets. And new Twitter CEO Linda Yaccarino offered no comment at all over the weekend beyond likes of Musk’s tweets. On Tuesday, though, Twitter put out a remarkable statement on business.twitter.com, and Yaccarino endorsed that with a tweet, her first tweet since June 30:
When you have a mission like Twitter — you need to make big moves to keep strengthening the platform. This work is meaningful and on-going. Here’s more insight on our work to ensure the authenticity of our user base. ? https://t.co/5FzBa3636Z
— Linda Yaccarino (@lindayacc) July 4, 2023
Here’s the full text of that statement:
To ensure the authenticity of our user base we must take extreme measures to remove spam and bots from our platform. 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.
At a high level, we are working to prevent these accounts from 1) scraping people’s public Twitter data to build AI models and 2) manipulating people and conversation on the platform in various ways.
Currently, the restrictions affect a small percentage of people using the platform, and we will provide an update when the work is complete. As it relates to our customers, effects on advertising have been minimal.
While this work will never be done, we’re all deeply committed to making Twitter a better place for everyone.
At times, even for a brief moment, you must slow down to speed up.
We appreciate your patience.
There’s a lot that’s debatable in there, from the blame on “bots” (a frequent target for Musk, but a culprit not supported by outside analysis) to the “Any advance notice on these actions would have allowed bad actors to alter their behavior to evade detection.” (That’s certainly an excuse. And it’s still unclear what exactly the “bad actors'” behavior is here beyond “looking at tweets.”) The “effects on advertising have been minimal” also seems up for debate, given just how hard it has been for many to look at Twitter (including its ads) this past weekend.
The “restrictions affect a small percentage of people using the platform” also doesn’t seem to line up with the mass outcry over this visible on the service all weekend, except for maybe pointing out how many inactive or seldomly-active Twitter accounts there are (which would not be affected); it appeared that most people who use the service at all frequently ran into the rate limits (which also were far from clear in how they were applied across clients and more). And this statement also doesn’t really commit Twitter to a concrete rollback, especially with it saying “this work will never be done.” But this is at least hinting at a rollback of some sort, and offering an explanation (even if perhaps not a plausible one, and one several days late) for Twitter’s actions. It will be interesting to see where they go from here.