Twitter Meltdown: After Outages, Twitter Now Charging for 2 Factor Authentication

The meltdown of Twitter continues. Multiple outages were reported, offices were shut down, and now security is a paid subscription.

Back in January, we reported on Musk killing third party access to its API. The decision meant that third party apps making Twitter more useful were no longer functional. That move was coupled by a last minute change to its rules about such access, but then later calling that brand new rule “longstanding”.

Despite all of that, Twitter remained alive, so Twitter owner, Elon Musk, got to work trying to ward off more users with an even more awful user experience. First up is the massive outages the platform experienced. This coupled with even more sluggish experience and error messages that we’ve observed. The BBC on the outages:

Some Twitter users were unable to tweet on Wednesday after the website experienced technical problems.

Account holders received a message saying: “You are over the daily limit for sending Tweets.”

The outage-tracking website DownDetector reported the glitch at just before 22:00 GMT.

It appears part of the outage was soon fixed, with many users reporting they could tweet.

Some reported being notified by Twitter that they were over the 2,400-tweet-per-day limit, even if they had not posted on Wednesday.

Account holders had also reported problems with Twitter messages. Several users said they could not access TweetDeck – a dashboard that can be used with Twitter.

It’s not yet clear how many people were affected.

Musk faced even more controversy after throwing a temper tantrum about his tweets not getting enough user engagement. In response, Musk fired an engineer for the crime of Musk’s platform not giving Musk enough attention. From Techdirt:

The latest is from the always excellent Platformer News, where Zoe Schiffer and Casey Newton have quite a scoop concerning Musk throwing an absolute shit fit because his tweets are getting less engagement than in the past, and even firing one of the only two remaining principal engineers at the company, after they suggested maybe people were just kinda tired of all the Elon stuff:

On Tuesday, Musk gathered a group of engineers and advisors into a room at Twitter’s headquarters looking for answers. Why are his engagement numbers tanking?

“This is ridiculous,” he said, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the meeting. “I have more than 100 million followers, and I’m only getting tens of thousands of impressions.”

One of the company’s two remaining principal engineers offered a possible explanation for Musk’s declining reach: just under a year after the Tesla CEO made his surprise offer to buy Twitter for $44 billion, public interest in his antics is waning.

Employees showed Musk internal data regarding engagement with his account, along with a Google Trends chart. Last April, they told him, Musk was at “peak” popularity in search rankings, indicated by a score of “100.” Today, he’s at a score of nine. Engineers had previously investigated whether Musk’s reach had somehow been artificially restricted, but found no evidence that the algorithm was biased against him.

Musk did not take the news well.

“You’re fired, you’re fired,” Musk told the engineer.

I mean, Musk has a well known reputation of “rage firing” people for telling him stuff he doesn’t want to hear. A few years back there was a story of him randomly rage firing an engineer at Tesla’s Gigafactory after Musk saw something that didn’t work right. And even though the engineer had nothing to do with the broken system, he was the nearest person to Musk, and he asked Musk to clarify what he was angry about, so he got fired. The story in that article sounds quite similar to the one in the Platformer piece. Musk hears something he doesn’t like, and fires someone on the spot.

The news was followed up by a follow-up where US President, Joe Biden, got more engagement with his Tweet than Musk. As a result, he threw another temper tantrum and threatened to fire the remaining engineers for this unspeakable crime:

Zoe Schiffer and Casey Newton are back with the inside scoop on what happened. Basically, it sounds like Elon threw yet another tantrum, this time because a Joe Biden Super Bowl tweet got more engagement than an Elon Musk tweet. So, in the middle of the night after the Super Bowl, Mr. Nepotism had his cousin send a message to everyone at Twitter, saying this was a “high urgency” issue.

At 2:36 on Monday morning, James Musk sent an urgent message to Twitter engineers.

“We are debugging an issue with engagement across the platform,” wrote Musk, a cousin of the Twitter CEO, tagging “@here” in Slack to ensure that anyone online would see it. “Any people who can make dashboards and write software please can you help solve this problem. This is high urgency. If you are willing to help out please thumbs up this post.”

When bleary-eyed engineers began to log on to their laptops, the nature of the emergency became clear: Elon Musk’s tweet about the Super Bowl got less engagement than President Joe Biden’s.

But Musk’s always hungry ego must be sated, so his cousin sent out the “high urgency” issue, and Musk allegedly threatened to fire his remaining engineers if they didn’t solve the problem of his tweets not getting enough engagement:

Platformer can confirm: after Musk threatened to fire his remaining engineers, they built a system designed to ensure that Musk — and Musk alone — benefits from previously unheard-of promotion of his tweets to the entire user base.


His deputies told the rest of the engineering team this weekend that if the engagement issue wasn’t “fixed,” they would all lose their jobs as well.

Musk told them directly that making his tweets popular again was the top priority project. This is entering mad king territory:

Late Sunday night, Musk addressed his team in-person. Roughly 80 people were pulled in to work on the project, which had quickly become priority number one at the company. Employees worked through the night investigating various hypotheses about why Musk’s tweets weren’t reaching as many people as he thought they should and testing out possible solutions.

The solution, basically hard code into the system that every tweet that Elon Musk ever sends must be considered crazy popular by the algorithm, to a level that it must mean that everyone wants to see it, and therefore everyone will

From the sounds of things, Musk is throwing yet another temper tantrum that this story even made it out to the public in the first place. He has now gone from threatening people with their jobs to threatening to sue those engineers as well. From Yahoo! Finance:

Twitter CEO Elon Musk said he’s going after a “disgruntled employee” he claims was the source of a “bogus” article about him.

On Tuesday, Platformer, a newsletter that covers Twitter closely, published a report entitled, “Yes, Elon Musk created a special system for showing you all his tweets first.”

According to the article, Musk ordered changes to the Twitter algorithm after a tweet of his during the Super Bowl got less engagement than President Joe Biden’s. Musk quickly assembled dozens of Twitter employees following the game on Sunday night to fix the issue.

By Monday, the Platformer report states, Twitter’s algorithm “artificially boosted Musk’s tweets by a factor of 1,000—a constant score that ensured his tweets rank higher than anyone else’s in the feed.”

Musk tweeted early on Friday, “The ‘source’ of the bogus Platformer article is a disgruntled employee who had been on paid time off for months, had already accepted a job at Google and felt the need to poison the well on the way out. Twitter will be taking legal action against him.”

Musk did not name the employee or reveal why he is suspected of being the source, and therefore it could not be confirmed whether Musk’s allegations are accurate.

All of this seems to confirm that Musk is using the platform as his own personal megaphone. His speech is the most important speech of all and therefore, his speech should trounce the speech of others.

While that was going on, Twitter said that it would also be closing two offices in India. From Bloomberg:

Twitter Inc. has shut two of its three India offices and told its staff to work from home, underscoring Elon Musk’s mission to slash costs and get the struggling social media service in the black.

Twitter, which fired more than 90% of its roughly 200-plus staff in India late last year, closed its offices in the political center New Delhi and financial hub of Mumbai, people aware of the matter said. The company continues to operate an office in the southern tech hub of Bengaluru that mostly houses engineers, the people said, declining to be identified as the information is private.

While the staff has been gutted, Musk also turned his attention to the security of its users. For those wanting to have two factor authentication via SMS, this is now a paywalled feature, locked behind Twitter Blue. From PCMag:

Effective March 20, Twitter will no longer allow people to use SMS-based two-factor authentication (2FA), unless they subscribe to Twitter Blue.

“While historically a popular form of 2FA, unfortunately we have seen phone-number based 2FA be used – and abused – by bad actors,” Twitter wrote in a Friday night blog post(Opens in a new window). “So starting today, we will no longer allow accounts to enroll in the text message/SMS method of 2FA unless they are Twitter Blue subscribers.”

Those who are not enrolled in Twitter Blue can still use an authenticator app or a security key for 2FA. But if they’re currently using SMS to authenticate their accounts, they only have 30 days to make the switch.

“After 20 March 2023, we will no longer permit non-Twitter Blue subscribers to use text messages as a 2FA method. At that time, accounts with text message 2FA still enabled will have it disabled,” Twitter says.

This seems to be the latest step to chip away at the security of Twitter users and turn security into a paid service. No doubt those in the field of security are vomiting at the thought.

Meanwhile, the growth of Mastodon continues. At last count, Mastodon is now less than 500,000 accounts away from reaching the milestone of 10 million users. At the current pace, it’ll take, what? Three and a half months unless another particularly stupid move drives yet another rush of users to the platform to take the platform over the top?

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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