Elon Musk's X delayed access to sites critical of his companies, report claims

The social media platform has also shut down its $100m-a-year promoted accounts advertising feature

Elon Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion last October and rebranded it X last month. AFP
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Elon Musk's X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, has reportedly delayed access to the websites of companies that have been critical of his entities, as well as social media rivals.

Clicking a link on X that directs to one of those sites made a user wait for five seconds, according to tests conducted by The Washington Post.

The apparently intentional move affected sites including news organisations such as Reuters and The New York Times, and platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Bluesky and Substack, the Post said.

All of these companies have at some point drawn the ire of Mr Musk for criticising him or his companies, which include Tesla and SpaceX.

X had earlier blocked users from posting links that redirected users to rival social media platforms.

Throttling, or the intentional slowing down of an internet connection, is not uncommon. For example, internet service providers can intentionally throttle speeds in order to decongest traffic, or put a cap on user bandwidth to give them room to charge more for higher speeds.

X confirmed it had removed the delay on Tuesday afternoon, without elaborating why it was enforced in the first place, Reuters reported.

The social media platform has been tight-lipped to the media ever since Mr Musk bought it for $44 billion last October.

“We are aware of the report in The Washington Post of a delay in opening links to Reuters stories on X. We are looking into the matter,” a Reuters official said.

The New York Times, meanwhile, confirmed the link delay, and said it has not received an explanation from X, Reuters reported.

The National can confirm that there is no apparent delay to these websites as of Wednesday. It also could not be established when the throttling began.

However, the delays have been traced back to August 4 when a user on tech forum Hacker News said X had started delaying access to The New York Times on that day.

“While we don't know the rationale behind the application of this time delay, we would be concerned by targeted pressure applied to any news organisation for unclear reasons,” The New York Times spokesman Charlie Stadtlander said.

Mr Musk's purchase of the erstwhile Twitter came with a pledge to make the platform more inclusive and transparent, as well as plans to make it more profitable.

However, moves he has implemented – including cutting the workforce and introducing a new paid tier scheme, as well as his apparent use of the platform to go after critics – have caused the world's wealthiest person to be at odds with some users and alienate advertisers.

Separately, X announced that it has shut down its promoted accounts feature. This means advertisers will no longer be able to promote their accounts within its timeline to help them attract new followers, Axios reported, citing an email to advertising clients.

One of X's oldest advertising features, promoted accounts, also known as follower objective ads, appear as text-based content with a follow button within a timeline feed. They do not directly promote content, but rather encourage a user to follow that account.

The feature's removal is surprising, since it generates about $100 million in revenue per year, but X acknowledged the move, saying the company was “depreciating” the ad unit, Axios said.

Updated: August 16, 2023, 9:34 AM