Musk's X caught throttling outbound links to websites he doesn't like

Elon, curing the world of imposter syndrome one decision at a time

Elon Musk's X was this week caught throttling outbound links to several sites, coincidentally ones that the billionaire has complained about or feuded with in the past.

Links directing users of the website formerly known as Twitter to news sources such as The New York Times and Reuters, social media platforms Facebook, Instagram, Threads and Bluesky and subscription newsletter service Substack were all being delayed based on testing, The Washington Post reported. Several other news sites, including the Times, confirmed the delays in their own probing. 

Unaffected were links to the WaPo itself, Fox News, or X rival Mastodon, multiple sources reported. On Tuesday afternoon when the throttling stories began emerging, X appeared to ease off, as affected sites all began to load normally. Earlier reports put loading times for affected sites at five or more seconds. Tests performed by The Register today indicated no delay reaching the previously affected domains.  

Website loading times have a huge impact on readership: if a page takes too long to open, even a couple of seconds, people will click back or close the tab. It also affects conversion rate, a ratio between visitors and a desirable action by those visitors. For example, if for every 1,000 people who land on a page, ten sign up for a newsletter, that's a conversation rate of one percent.

Cloudflare reckons 47 percent of customers expect pages to load in two seconds or less. Beyond 4.2 seconds, conversion rates fall below a single percent, Cloudflare said. 

The slowdown was first pointed out by a Hacker News denizen who said they noticed a delay in reaching the Times and Threads on August 4 - the same day Musk attacked the NYT on X, calling it a "racial genocide apologist" that supported calls for race war over its reporting on the singing of a controversial song, considered by right-wing commentators to be racist, at a South African political rally.

"I've been tracking the NYT delay ever since it was added and the delay is so consistent it's obviously deliberate," HN poster xslowzone said yesterday. The Times separately verified the delays were occurring, and said the news outlet hadn't been given an explanation.  

As for Musk's problems with the other platforms, we likely need not remind readers of the ongoing Musk-Zuckerberg cage fight saga that kicked off when Meta launched Threads, its X competitor. Decentralized Twitter rival Mastodon, which wasn't caught up in the throttling, was blocked entirely on Twitter late last year when users began fleeing over dissatisfaction with Musk's antics as Twitter's new owner. 

While we couldn't reach X to get a comment on the alleged throttling, even former Twitter insiders seem to agree something was up. 

"This is one of those things that seems too crazy to be true, even for Twitter, until you see it inexplicably take five seconds for Chrome to receive 650 bytes of data," Yoel Roth, former head of trust and safety at Twitter, said in a post to Bluesky yesterday. "Why annoy users like this?" ®

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