Hanlon’s Razor Meets Its Match: Twitter/X

Jeremy B. Merrill and Drew Harwell, reporting for The Washington Post:

The company formerly known as Twitter has begun slowing the speed with which users can access links to the New York Times, Facebook and other news organizations and online competitors, a move that appears targeted at companies that have drawn the ire of owner Elon Musk. [...] The delayed websites included X’s online rivals Facebook, Instagram, Bluesky and Substack, as well as the Reuters wire service and the Times. All of them have previously been singled out by Musk for ridicule or attack.

The delay affects the t.co domain, a link-shortening service that X uses to process every link posted to the website. Traffic is routed through the middleman service, allowing X to track — and in this case throttle — activity to the target website, potentially taking away traffic and ad revenue from businesses Musk personally dislikes.

The Post’s analysis found that links to most other sites were unaffected — including those to The Washington Post, Fox News and social media services such as Mastodon and YouTube — with the shortened links being routed to their final destination in a second or less. A user first flagged the delays early Tuesday on the technology discussion forum Hacker News.

The Hacker News thread has the sort of nerdery you’d expect, including the fact that you won’t see the delay when using curl with its default user-agent string, because curl is special-cased by t.co.

Hanlon’s Razor — “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity” — is a remarkably accurate rule of thumb. But in the case of Twitter/X, it’s not helpful: the stupidity behind the company’s poorly run services is matched by the spitefulness of its owner. Purposeful spite and inadvertent bug strike me as equally likely here, and the list of domain that suffer this delay really does look like Musk’s shitlist. But regardless of the cause, the effect is undeniably bad for users: click or tap a link to these popular sites from Twitter, and it takes about 5 seconds for the URL to resolve.

Tuesday, 15 August 2023