Tweet of clay: will Twitter’s demise bring down Elon Musk?

Controversial rate limits come as Meta prepares to launch its rival to the social media platform

Elon Musk/Twitter
Many are wondering if Musk had planned to destroy the platform all along
(Image credit: Nathan Laine/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Twitter faced an angry backlash from its users after Elon Musk said the platform was introducing temporary limits on the number of posts that can be viewed.

The billionaire entrepreneur, who bought Twitter for $44 billion in October, announced the “temporary measure” in a tweet on Saturday. He said it was “to address extreme levels of data scraping” on the site by artificial intelligence companies.

An initial 600-tweet limit for unverified users was increased to 1,000 after criticism of the decision, while “rate limits” for verified users were increased from 6,000 to 10,000 tweets a day.

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‘Musk’s unravelling image’

It was yet another “perplexing and worrying” decision made by Musk, whose stewardship of Twitter has “lurched from scandal to scandal” since his takeover in October of last year, said Andrew Griffin in The Independent. It remains unclear if, as Musk has claimed, the rate limits have anything to do with scraping by artificial intelligence systems, or if it is an excuse that “chimes with the zeitgeist”, as other social media companies, such as Reddit, have become increasingly concerned over the issue.

“Is Twitter’s so-called rate limit a technical mistake that’s being passed off as an executive decision?”, asked Charlie Warzel in The Atlantic. “Or is it the opposite: a daring gambit of 13-dimensional chess, whereby Musk is trying to plunge the company into bankruptcy and restructuring?”. The unfolding situation had made “conspiracy theorists out of onlookers”, many of whom are now wondering whether Musk has planned to “slowly and steadily destroy the platform all along”.

But what should be “obvious” to anyone who has been paying attention to his Twitter tenure is that Musk is “bad at this”. His “incompetence” at running Twitter should “unravel his image as a visionary, one whose ambitions extend as far as colonising Mars”.

It was his reputation, far more than his vast wealth, that was Musk’s “real fortune”, continued Warzel. “But Musk has spent this currency recklessly. Who in their right mind would explore space with a man who can’t keep a website running?”

‘More sanely run Twitter clone’

It was a “trying weekend” for those who still believe Musk can turn Twitter into a “success story”, said Dave Lee for Bloomberg. Yet the “embarrassment” of having to limit the number of tweets users can see each day was “the surest sign yet that Musk’s cost-cutting has come with real consequences, not the least of which is opening the door to competitors”. Until now, Musk has been “fortunate” that “no real viable alternative” to Twitter has emerged since his takeover last autumn.

But that could be about to “abruptly” change with the arrival of Threads, Meta’s alternative to Twitter, which could be launched as soon as this week. The new platform could “immediately upend” the competitive landscape; one Meta executive described it as an opportunity to create “a more ‘sanely run’ Twitter clone” and one where “the owner doesn’t amplify far-right views or discredit reliable sources of information”.

One of the most concerning aspects of Musk’s Twitter takeover has been his peddling of “far-right conspiracy theories and racist misinformation”, said James Greig, writing for Dazed. And his “drift to the far-right” has come at a cost. While he was once a “broadly popular” figure with the American public, he is now a “polarising” one.

But while being a “divisive figure might pay off if you’re a Republican candidate”, it is less so for a businessman. Tesla shares are struggling and advertisers are abandoning Twitter. “But Musk is still a billionaire and, whatever happens, he will be insulated from the effects of the anger, fear and resentment he is helping to ferment,” wrote Greig. “The rest of us might not be so lucky.”

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