The End of the Free-for-All Internet?

6 July 2023
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Last week, a pivotal announcement from Twitter owner Elon Musk sent shockwaves through the digital world. The social media platform introduced rate limits on the number of tweets users can read per day, based on their account verification status, a paid qualification. This decision was aimed primarily at combating aggressive data scraping by AI firms training large language models, like OpenAI’s GPT-3. However, this significant shift from the “free-for-all” ethos of the internet to a model of restricted access could have far-reaching implications for the news publishing industry and could potentially herald a systemic change in the digital landscape.

A Seismic Shift

The rate limits imposed by Twitter mark a departure from the open access principle that has been a cornerstone of the internet. The limits are simple: verified accounts can read up to 10,000 tweets per day, unverified accounts 1,000, and new unverified accounts 500. This shift in policy might initially seem like a small adjustment, but it could set a precedent for other platforms, disrupting the dynamics of online news distribution and content consumption.

If more internet companies follow Twitter’s lead, we could witness the emergence of a two-tier system on the internet: those who pay for verification and enjoy higher access rates, and those who choose to use free services and face stricter restrictions. This divergence could lead to a significant reshaping of the digital landscape, with profound implications for news publishers.

Newspaper Publishers: Opportunities and Threats


The Twitter limits could offer an unexpected boost for news publishers. As users reach their daily tweet limit, they might turn to traditional news sites to keep up with events. Publishers could leverage this opportunity by ramping up their coverage and investing in their own real-time reporting capabilities.

The focus on verification could also lead to a surge in demand for verified accounts. If this is the case, publishers could explore collaborations with Twitter to offer their subscribers Twitter verification as part of a bundled package, creating an additional revenue stream.


Despite these potential opportunities, the Twitter rate limits also pose significant threats to the news industry. Publishers often use Twitter as a source of news and a platform for promoting their content. With the new limits, users may be unable to access tweets from news outlets once they’ve hit their limit, potentially decreasing the reach and impact of publishers’ content and increasing the importance of Twitter’s algorithms choices in what gets seen by who.

Additionally, the rate limits could have a chilling effect on the advertising industry. If users can’t view tweets beyond their daily limit, it could undermine the effectiveness of Twitter-based ad campaigns. This could impact news publishers who rely on Twitter for both advertising their content and monetising their own platforms.

Looking Ahead

The response from other internet companies will be crucial in this transition. Will they follow Twitter’s lead, or will they differentiate themselves by maintaining unrestricted access to content? The answers to these questions will shape the future of online news consumption and distribution.

The Twitter rate limits might be a response to data scraping by AI, but their implications go beyond AI. They highlight the tension between unrestricted access to online content and the need to control data scraping and system manipulation.

As large publishers are already looking at striking deals with AI companies and facing other disruptive forces to their business model like the ones in Search results, the news publishing industry will need to be flexible, innovative, and prepared for change.

All this comes as Meta prepares its new competition to Twitter: Threads. This new social media has been released in over 100 countries, not including EU nations, this week and looks to take advantage during Twitter’s tumultuous shake up. How it will be received and impact the industry is yet to be seen but it is sure to be making Twitter nervous. So far, the consensus is that the technology borrows heavily from Twitter but without a lot of the clunkiness that is significant on Twitter. The main advantage to the platform is its incredible ease of integration for those already on Meta platforms like Instagram. However, its success will depend on people making the migration and communities being built on the new platform. News publishers may decide to move to the new platform as the unsteadiness of Twitter has caused uncertainty.

The Threads account of The Telegraph

The Twitter rate limits mark a potential tipping point in how the internet works. Whether this change will bring about a systemic shift or merely a blip in the evolution of online news remains to be seen. What is certain, however, is that this move has brought the future of news publishing into sharp focus. As we grapple with the implications, opportunities, and threats it poses, one thing is clear: the news publishing industry is at the forefront of this digital revolution, and how it responds could shape the future of online news distribution.

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