Elon Musk's X throttles traffic to websites he doesn't like

X, formerly Twitter, added a five-second delay when a user clicked on a shortened link to the New York Times, Facebook and other sites Musk commonly attacks.
Sejal Sharma
Elon Musk.
Elon Musk.

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In a bid to slow down traffic to its competitor websites, X has been delaying the redirection of websites from its own webpage.

The first time the problem was flagged was on Tuesday morning by a user of the Hacker News website. They posted that there is a five second delay before X, formerly known as Twitter, redirects to websites like ‘NYTimes.com’ and ‘threads.net.’​ The user’s post said: “Twitter won't ban domains they don't like but will waste your time if you visit them.”

The owner of the microblogging website, Elon Musk, who bought Twitter in October last year, has in the past gone on several tirades against news organizations and journalists who have reported critically on his companies, including Tesla and SpaceX. The billionaire on August 5 called The New York Times a ‘racial genocide apologist.’

Four days after that, in a reply to a post quoting Musk from an earlier interview, he said he is calling out the media, particularly NYT and one other organization, for being racist against Whites and Asians.

A spokesman for NYT, Charlie Stadtlander spoke to Washington Post and revealed that the Times had “made similar observations” about the systemic delays and “not received any explanation from the platform about this move.”

“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 organization for unclear reasons,” added Stadtlander.

Zuck's businesses targeted

The biggest blow perhaps was for Mark Zuckerberg-led companies like Facebook, Instagram and Threads, which also faced delays. Although a startling revelation, throttling of Zuckerberg's websites don't exactly come as a surprise since he has been in crosshairs with Musk, rivalling over their respective social media platforms. The two have also been taking digs at each other over an impending (although improbable) cage fight.

WaPo's analysis found that links to other businesses like The Washington Post, Fox News remained unaffected.

Twitter has been long using the t.co domain to shorten links redirecting from Twitter. Anytime an X user composes a tweet/post which includes a link, that link is shortened using the http://t.co shortener. Traffic to every website is routed through the domain, which enables X to track, and in this case throttle, activity to the websites.

Concurring to the Hacker News’ user’s findings, The Washington Post ran their own investigation and found that users who clicked on a link — redirecting to websites belonging to Musk’s competitors — were made to wait about five seconds before seeing the page.

Since X was called out over the delay tactics, it is being observed that redirection from the website to NYT is taking two seconds instead of five.

Musk: I am a free speech absolutist

Substack too had been facing such delays and had urged X to review the anomaly. “Substack was created in direct response to this kind of behavior by social media companies," said the founders of the company in a statement to WaPo.

"Writers cannot build sustainable businesses if their connection to their audience depends on unreliable platforms that have proven they are willing to make changes that are hostile to the people who use them,” they added.

The consistent delay seems deliberate and costs Musk’s adversaries money in ad revenue. According to Google Analytics, 53 percent of website visits are abandoned if a mobile site takes longer than three seconds to load. 

One must spend money to make money. And that's why organizations spend thousands and millions of dollars to drive up the number of visitors on their websites. If the traffic doesn't convert, the investiment is more or less insignificant. So, given the allegations against Musk, he clearly knows what he's doing.

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