Washington, Berlin With new reading restrictions on the short message service Twitter, owner Elon Musk has caused a wave of criticism and guesswork about the background. Musk surprisingly announced on Saturday that users can temporarily only read a certain number of posts per day. Previously, many users had reported problems with the platform.
According to Musk, different rules apply to different user groups: users with verified accounts can still read 6,000 posts per day on Twitter until further notice. For those with unverified accounts, there are only up to 600 posts per day. New unverified accounts only have access to a maximum of 300 posts.
The read restrictions are necessary, Musk wrote, to counteract an “extreme level of data skimming and system manipulation”. He didn’t explain what he meant by that. In the past, however, he had expressed his displeasure that many companies tapped Twitter data to train artificial intelligence, for example.
“Frequency Limit Exceeded”
The chairwoman of the SPD, Saskia Esken, reacted with sharp criticism to the reading restrictions. “With his poorly thought-out but momentous decision to massively restrict access to news, the American super-rich Elon Musk is once again laying the ax on Twitter,” Esken told Handelsblatt. The social network was “fed, made big and established free of charge” by its users and also plays a “significant role” in the public debate in Germany, in politics and in the media world. “I am convinced that we cannot continue to leave this important digital public space in the hands of a tech giant with a questionable understanding of democracy,” emphasized Esken.
Many users also expressed criticism because they could no longer access the content shared on the platform as usual. “Frequency Limit Exceeded,” read a commonly shared screenshot of those who had hit their limit. The hashtag #RIPTwitter, which can be translated as “rest in peace, Twitter”, spread in German-speaking countries. Some said they would turn their backs on Twitter should restrictions remain in place.
Musk reacted and announced in another post on Twitter that he wanted to increase the limit soon. Users of verified accounts could then read up to 8000 posts per day instead of 6000, those with unverified accounts 800 instead of 600. New unverified accounts would then have access to a maximum of 400 instead of 300 posts. He later wrote in a tweet: “Now to 10,000, 1,000 and 500.” He could have meant that the limit should be increased again.
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The fact that different reading restrictions apply to verified and unverified users also caused harsh criticism. The background: Twitter had changed the assignment of verification ticks under Musk. Users can get these with a paid subscription and only have to enter a phone number. Twitter used to give them only to properly verified public interest accounts.
Twitter in crisis mode
SPD leader Esken shut down her Twitter account last year and set up an account with her competitor Mastodon – a decentralized short message service that, unlike Twitter, uses different servers, so-called Mastodon instances, which are mostly run by volunteers. “Basically, I think a mastodon network is quite suitable to take over the social function of Twitter,” said Esken.
The SPD politician suggested that politicians and the state support Mastodon “in the sense of digital services of general interest” so that the network can cope with a rapidly growing number of users and their content, and the software can be kept up-to-date and secure and further developed. “For example, the public media authorities could offer curated and moderated instances of Mastodon and thus help that an alternative to Twitter based on our fundamental democratic values can grow,” said Esken.
A lot has changed in the short message service since Musk took over Twitter a good eight months ago. The rededication of the verification tick caused a lot of criticism. Many celebrities for whom the ticks were once created refused to pay money for them. In contrast, many Musk fans and right-wingers, encouraged by Musk as an influential amplifier of their political views, jumped on the bandwagon.
Musk bought Twitter for around $44 billion last October. This was followed by a slump in advertising revenue, and he now relies more on subscription revenue. The subscription costs EUR 9.52 per month for one user. Companies and organizations should pay a monthly basic fee of 950 euros plus 50 euros for each linked account for a golden yellow verification symbol.
It is obvious that Musk also wants to use the innovation to create incentives for users to take out a paid subscription. He is also known for wanting to generate a lot of attention for himself and the platform with such actions. Ironically, his tweet introducing the new reading restrictions was read by a “record number” of users, Musk claimed in a later tweet.
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First publication: 07/01/2023, 20:50 (last updated on 07/02/2023, 21:10).