Goodbye, Twitter: the new access and content policies on the famous blue bird’s social media
(A version of this blog in Spanish is available here: Adiós, Twitter: las nuevas políticas de acceso y contenido en la famosa red social del pajarito azul)
In October 2022, Elon Musk acquired Twitter for an astounding $44 billion. Since then, many changes have been made to the company, including staff layoffs, and longer working hours for employees to meet Musk’s standards. Twitter has also implemented new policies, such as a rebranding (replacing the bluebird’s name and logo with an X) and limiting the number of tweets users can view. The decision to limit access to tweets has faced the most opposition.
Elon Musk believes limiting message reading is necessary to combat data theft and system manipulation. Data scraping, which involves using automated techniques to collect data from the web (López, 2018), can be used for commercial and malicious purposes. Criminals can use this method to steal sensitive information from financial institutions, leading to identity and cyber theft.
Musk has introduced new reading limits for Twitter accounts to address this issue. Verified accounts can read up to 6,000 posts per day, unverified accounts can read up to 600 posts, and new unverified accounts can read up to 300 posts daily. This policy is a temporary emergency measure, but it has sparked anger among millions of users. The hashtag #RIPTwitter even trended in the United States. Due to the pressure from users, Twitter’s largest shareholder later updated the figures. Verified accounts can now read up to 10,000 posts per day, unverified accounts can read up to 1,000 posts, and new unverified accounts can read up to 500 posts daily.
Freedom of information
The debate surrounding the company’s policies is ongoing, with some defending them as beneficial for users while others criticise the restrictions they impose on access to information and freedom of expression. One recent measure that sparked controversy was the company’s decision to label the prefix “cis” and the term “cisgender” as insults on their social network. This decision came after a user reported receiving hate messages when using the word. The company’s terms for suspending accounts and dealing with harassment remain unclear. Though harmful comments may be allowed to some extent, they will be minimised. Elon Musk has summarised the new policy as “Freedom of speech, but not of dissemination”.
Twitter is facing criticism for suspending user accounts, which has resulted in political consequences. Germany is pushing for the platform to be penalised for its ineffective management of illegal content. Moreover, the European country has called for assessing Twitter’s regulation in the EU due to its unpredictable and abrupt decisions. It is worth mentioning that Twitter suspended the accounts of journalists from reputable media outlets, such as the New York Times and Washington Post, who reported on Musk and his company. Although Twitter claims these accounts were suspended for violating their terms and conditions, neither the media nor NGOs found this explanation satisfactory.
What impact does this measure have on freedom of information and expression? Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN, 1948) states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Twitter’s anti-hate speech policy partially aligns with this article’s spirit, but its criteria for excluding content and users are unclear. Furthermore, limiting the number of tweets and restricting relevant content restricts the public’s right to information, essential for informed decision-making and constructive public debate.
A medium for study
Twitter is more than just a social network. It is a powerful media outlet that can broadcast messages to a large audience through its channels. The media is essential for mass communication (McQuail, 2000). Any policy restricting access to real-time information worldwide is a significant disadvantage in the digital media environment. Twitter’s success is mainly due to its ability to share public actions and information, making it a popular platform used by governments and private institutions (Meunier, 2012).
Social media has played a significant role in democratic processes like elections, referendums, and social movements. Examples include Barack Obama’s presidential re-election in 2012 and the Arab Spring in 2010. Additionally, social media functions as a digital communication system that fosters public discussion, debate, and communicative action (Carty, 2014). Twitter is a fascinating subject for political communication research, especially in terms of its use as an electoral tool (Freire Castello, 2019). A simple search online for Twitter reveals thousands of articles analysing profiles, users, and social-political content. One notable study analysed over 3 million tweets with the most widespread hashtag codes related to the Arab uprisings in 2010 (Stepanova, 2011).
There is much uncertainty surrounding Twitter, now known as X. Despite having a massive user base of over 300 million people, the social media platform is experiencing changes and disruptions. The CEO frequently announces new policies and restructuring, which has already cost money. Musk has admitted to losing almost half of his advertising revenue, and his cash flow is still negative. Additionally, Twitter faces competition from other platforms like Mastodon and Threads, the latter developed by Meta and very similar to Twitter, allowing users to post up to 500 characters. Threads launched with over 30 million users in its first few hours. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, a competitor of Twitter, said that Twitter had a chance to succeed but did not make it. It is worth noting that Threads is yet to be available in Europe due to new digital service legislation that takes effect in 2024.
BBC News Mundo. (2023, July 4). Threads y Twitter: en qué se parece la red de Elon Musk a la de Mark Zuckerberg, que logró “30 millones de usuarios” en su estreno. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/mundo/articles/cnd96nng2ypo
Carty, V. (2014). Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt: The impact of new media on contemporary social movements and challenges for social movement theory. https://digitalcommons.chapman.edu/sociology_articles/12/
Freire Castello, N. (2019). Por qué es el Twitter el territorio político digital. Polis, 15(2), 41–76. https://doi.org/10.24275/uam/izt/dcsh/polis/2019v15n2/freire
Jiménez, M. (2022, November 18). La confusa nueva política de Elon Musk en Twitter: permitir mensajes de odio, pero que se vean menos. Ediciones EL PAÍS S.L. https://elpais.com/tecnologia/2022-11-18/la-confusa-nueva-politica-de-elon-musk-en-twitter-permitir-mensajes-de-odio-pero-que-se-vean-menos.html
López, J. (2018). Web Scraping. Universidad de El Salvador. Retrieved on: https://www.academia.edu/35895308/Web_scraping.
McQuail, D. (2000). Mass Communication Theory. Sage Publications, London. – references – scientific research publishing. (n.d.). Scirp.org. Retrieved July 24, 2023, from https://www.scirp.org/(S(351jmbntvnsjt1aadkposzje))/reference/ReferencesPapers.aspx?ReferenceID=2515751
Meunier, F. (2012). Vista de El Uso De La Red Social Twitter Como Herramienta Para La Difusión De Información Pública. (n.d.). Revistarazonypalabra.org. Retrieved July 24, 2023, from https://www.revistarazonypalabra.org/index.php/ryp/article/view/662/688
United Nations. (n.d.). La Declaración Universal de Derechos Humanos | Naciones Unidas. Retrieved July 21, 2023, from https://www.un.org/es/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights.
Natalia Messer Molina is a doctoral student at the HCIAS and a member of the HCIAS Doctoral Research Group “Communication and Society in Ibero-America”. She is a scholarship holder of the Landesgraduiertenförderungsprogramm of the state of Baden-Württemberg.