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Why Twitter is limiting the number of tweets a user can view

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Another day, another series of bizarre events on Twitter.

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

Elon Musk is capping the number of tweets users can see each day. Social media channels typically want to draw as many eyes as possible to their content, so why impose limits on users instead?

INSKEEP: Let's put that question to NPR tech reporter Bobby Allyn, who has been covering Elon Musk, gets an email from him from time to time. Hey there, Bobby.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. So what is Elon Musk doing?

ALLYN: Yeah. I mean, even for erratic Musk, this is something of a surprise. He says it's an attempt to crack down on companies that scrape Twitter for data. The idea is that if there's a cap on how many tweets users can read, companies won't be able to do mass data scraping. He originally said unverified accounts can read 600 tweets, and verified accounts can read 6,000. After massive blowback, he raised the cap a few times. It now sits at a thousand tweets for those without blue checks and 10,000 for those paying. Musk says this is all about artificial intelligence companies, right? They train AI models, as we know, by hoovering up tons of data from websites like Twitter. He says all the data scraping makes Twitter less stable for everyday users.

It's hard to independently confirm whether this is really why Musk is doing this. But, Steve, there is something we can say without question, and that is Musk is trying to make more money. Twitter has been burning cash for months, and by saying, if you want to read more tweets, you got to pay, Musk hopes more people will open their pocketbooks.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, you know, I'm - think I'm like a lot of people. I have a love-hate relationship. I'm on Twitter a lot. I get a lot out of Twitter. But when I first found out I was being limited, I kind of wanted to say thank you for limiting my time on Twitter. How are others - other users responding?

ALLYN: Yeah. You hear a lot of that. Some Twitter diehards are upset for that very reason. After hitting the threshold, you're now told your rate limit has been exceeded, and you literally can't see tweets from that point on. But there are some other things to consider. For instance, you know, governments and emergency services that use Twitter to get the word out about severe weather or other dangerous situations, now they could be cut off from the public. That could be a real problem. And advertisers are going to be restricted, and that will mean less revenue generated for Twitter.

And some context - this is happening at a time when advertising spending has cratered at Twitter. It's down nearly 60% from a year ago, so bad time to be messing with ad revenue. The new limits were also, you know, so annoying to so many users that many, once again, said, I'm getting off Twitter. I'm going someplace else, maybe Blue Sky, maybe Mastodon. We've been hearing this a lot since Musk bought Twitter back in October.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Wasn't there just a wave of people urging everyone to jump ship just a few days ago?

ALLYN: Yes, because Twitter imposed a new rule that forced you to have an account in order to read a tweet. And social media experts say this is a very bad idea. It makes Twitter less open, less public and more like a walled garden. Not to mention, you know, if somebody sends you a really funny tweet and you want to see the joke, you can't unless you have a Twitter account. So that's kind of a bummer for people who don't have Twitter.

INSKEEP: But are these latest changes permanent?

ALLYN: We don't know. We know that Musk says that the cap on tweets is temporary. The you-need-an-account-to-view-a-tweet thing may be permanent. But users are having fun with this, Steve. One wrote, just got rate-limited at my 6,000th tweet and had to leave my office and spend time with my wife and kids for the first time in years. Turns out they're really cool people.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) NPR's Bobby Allyn, part of your unlimited diet of NPR News. Bobby, thanks so much.

ALLYN: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Bobby Allyn
Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.