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Elon Musk blamed data scraping for strict ‘rate limits’ on viewing tweets. Twitter’s former head of trust and safety says it’s not the first time the site’s been broken by someone ‘bumbling around in the rate limiter.’

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SpaceX, Twitter and electric car maker Tesla CEO Elon Musk attends an event during the Vivatech technology startups and innovation fair at the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre in Paris, on June 16, 2023. (Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP) (Photo by JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images)SpaceX, Twitter and electric car maker Tesla CEO Elon Musk attends an event during the Vivatech technology startups and innovation fair at the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre in Paris, on June 16, 2023.

JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images

  • Elon Musk announced limits to how many tweets Twitter users could view to combat data scraping.
  • Twitter’s former head of trust and safety said the rationale behind the decision “doesn’t pass the sniff test.”
  • The limited functionality at Twitter comes amid negotiations for a contract for Google Cloud storage.

Elon Musk on Saturday announced temporary tweet-viewing rate limits restricting how many posts un-verified Twitter users can see, blaming “extreme levels of data scraping & system manipulation” for the limited functionality — but the site’s former head of trust and safety says that argument “doesn’t pass the sniff test.”

“To address extreme levels of data scraping & system manipulation, we’ve applied the following temporary limits,” Musk announced on Twitter in the first of a series of tweets about the decision. Throughout the day, Musk continued posting about the rate limits, increasing the number of posts users could view each time.

As of 10 a.m. Saturday, verified accounts for paid users were initially limited to reading 6,000 posts per day, with existing unverified accounts limited to reading 600 posts per day and new unverified accounts only 300 per day. By 3 p.m., per Musk’s tweets, those numbers increased to 10k, 1k, and 0.5k, respectively.

As Twitter users scrolled through the site, once they reached the new viewing limits, no new content would be displayed. A notification appeared instead reading either “Something went wrong. Try reloading,” or  “Sorry, you are rate limited. Please wait a few moments then try again,” Insider previously reported.

The sporadic changes contributed to a sense of unease around the restrictions. They made Twitter users skeptical about the reasoning behind the rate limit if it would be removed the same day it was implemented.

“It just doesn’t pass the sniff test that scraping all of a sudden created such dramatic performance problems that Twitter had no choice but to put everything behind a login,” Yoel Roth wrote in a thread about the Twitter outage on Bluesky social, a rival app still in beta testing that on Saturday prohibited anyone making new accounts due to the volume of users migrating from Twitter.

Roth, who worked on the user trust and site integrity teams at Twitter for more than seven years, added: “Scraping was the open secret of Twitter data access. We knew about it. It was fine.”

Roth, as well as Musk, did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment. The Twitter press team replied with an automated response

“There’s some legitimacy to Twitter and Reddit being upset with AI companies for slurping up social data gratis in order to train commercially lucrative models,” Roth added. “But they should never forget that it’s not *their* data — its ours. A solution to parasitic AI needs to be user-centric, not profit-centric.”

The limited functionality on Twitter comes amid a scramble to negotiate with Google over cloud storage services after Platformer reported in June that Musk had refused to make payments toward Twitter’s existing $1 billion contract with the search giant.

Bloomberg later reported, under Linda Yaccarino’s leadership, Twitter has resumed making payments on the contract with Google for essential cloud storage space. Still, negotiations about the future of the partnership are ongoing.

Representatives for Google did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. 

Twitter users were quick to speculate that the limits to functionality were caused by Twitter’s failure to pay for Google cloud services. Still, Insider could not verify a specific cause for the Twitter restrictions.

Roth posted on Bluesky that Saturday’s incident “isn’t even the first time they’ve completely broken the site by bumbling around in the rate limiter.”

“There’s a reason the limiter was one of the most locked down internal tools,” he added. “Futzing with rate limits is probably the easiest way to break Twitter.”

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