X reportedly delays links to sites Elon Musk dislikes

16 Aug 2023

Image: © lesslemon/Stock.adobe.com

There are reports that X added a five-second delay to sites such as Facebook, Substack and The Times – sites that Musk has ridiculed in the past.

New reports claim X – formerly known as Twitter – has developed a petty (and potentially effective) tactic to disrupt certain competitors and sites Elon Musk has previously spoken out against.

The claim is that X is adding a five-second delay if a user clicks a link that brings them to certain domains. This delay was first noted by a user yesterday (15 August) on the Hacker News forum.

The Washington Post said its own analysis confirms this claim and that certain sites are being throttled by X. The delay reportedly impacts online rivals such as Facebook, Instagram, Bluesky and Substack, along with news sites such as Reuters and The New York Times. The report claims Musk has singled out each of these sites before for “ridicule or attack”.

The report claims the delay impacts the t.co domain, which is a link-shortening service that X uses to process links posted to the site. Links to various other sites such as The Washington Post, Fox News, Mastodon and YouTube were all routed in a second or less, according to the analysis.

A spokesperson for the Times told The Washington Post that the news outlet had made “similar observations” about these link delays.

It is unclear when these delays began, but the Hacker News user anonymously told The Washington Post that they first saw links to The Times get delayed on 4 August. This was the same day Musk called for people to stop subscribing to the news site in a tweet.

While a five-second delay may sound relatively short, it can be very significant in the fast paced online world. A Google study in 2016 claimed 53pc of site visits are abandoned by mobile users if a site takes longer than three seconds to load. Twitter has not responded to requests for comment.

The Washington Post also claims that X has reversed the “throttling” on some sites after the analysis was published, but it is unclear if this applies to all of the targeted sites.

Free speech absolutist – sometimes

Musk claims to be a “free speech absolutist” but many of his actions online seem counter to this philosophy. Earlier this month, he began legal action against a non-profit organisation over claims it made about hate speech moderation on X.

Last November, there were reports that he fired multiple Twitter engineers who had posted critical comments on the social network or on its internal Slack messaging system.

The social media site also faced criticism earlier this year for its decision to restrict access to some content in Turkey ahead of elections in the country.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic