Twitter failures go from bad to worse, users wonder how long it can stay online

Mar 12, 2023, 10:47 AM
The Twitter headquarters signage as seen on 10th Street on November 4, 2022 in San Francisco, Calif...
The Twitter headquarters signage as seen on 10th Street on November 4, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (David Odisho/Getty Images)
(David Odisho/Getty Images)

(CNN) — Late last year, Dan Sinker found himself in a “Groundhog Day” situation. When he would check his notifications tab on Twitter, Sinker, who has tens of thousands of followers, often saw the platform recommend the same weeks-old tweet from another user. As Sinker described the situation in one tweet in early December, “we’re back to November 7 in my mentions again.”

The glitch was emblematic of a larger problem for Twitter: In the weeks after billionaire Elon Musk acquired the company in late October and quickly began slashing staff, parts of the social network just stopped working. Replies to tweets would show up out of order, the notifications tab wouldn’t update, and the two-factor authentication tool failed for some.

The situation only seems to be getting worse as Musk continues cutting staff. On Monday, Twitter suffered its third service disruption in less than a month and, according to Internet watchdog NetBlocks, its sixth major outage in 2023, compared to nine tracked throughout all of 2022.

Some users who attempted to load on Monday were met with an error message: “your current API plan does not include access to this endpoint.” Other users were able to access the site but were unable to see photos or click through links. Less than a week earlier, users encountered a different, maddening problem: when trying to check their feeds, they saw a “Welcome to Twitter!” message, as if they had just joined the platform.

“It kind of feels like parts are falling off the plane while we’re flying in it. Is the plane going to be able to continue to fly and land? Probably, but it becomes a less sure thing with each bit that falls off,” Sinker, a writer who has been on Twitter since 2007, told CNN. “It is no longer a thing that you can rely on being there — and even if it’s there, you can’t really rely on it acting the way you think it’s going to act.”

The service disruptions and random glitches highlight the larger tension for Twitter and its new owner. Musk has raced to slash staff, reportedly bringing the company’s headcount down from 7,500 employees to less than 2,000 now, in an urgent effort to cut costs for the company he purchased with a significant amount of debt. But in trying to cut his way to profitability, Musk risks making Twitter a less viable service.

The outages threaten to drive away users and advertisers, some of whom are already frustrated with Musk’s controversial remarks and early decisions running the company. “When you lump it in with some other issues that are going on, it becomes more of a reason to potentially steer away from giving ad dollars to Twitter,” Angelo Zino, senior equity analyst CFRA Research, told CNN.

But there may not be an easy fix. NetBlocks director Alp Toker told CNN the service disruptions “trace back to the Twitter data center, indicating engineering failures or insufficient testing.” According to Zino, “They just don’t have enough engineers, to be honest with you.”

“It seems like they went above and beyond [with layoffs] and, to an extent, they had to because Musk overpaid for an acquisition where the debt that he’s got to pay off is significant,” Zino said. “It’s an unfortunate situation.”

Musk himself has acknowledged Twitter’s ongoing struggle to stay online, though he has blamed outages more on the platform’s code than the thinner staffing under his leadership.

“The code base is like a Rube Goldberg machine, and when you zoom in on one part of the Rube Goldberg machine, there’s another Rube Goldberg machine, and then there’s another one,” Musk said at an event this week “So it’s quite difficult to keep this thing running, and then also difficult to advance the product because it is really overly complex, to say the least.”

Whatever the reason, the reality is the same for Twitter users: the service now appears to be breaking more frequently than anytime since the “fail whale” era more than a decade ago, and breaking in a vast number of ways.

Last weekend, users complained of glitches such as unblocking or unfollowing people at random, old tweets resurfacing to the top of feeds, video streaming issues, faulty links and deleted drafts. Weeks earlier, Twitter users encountered other various issues with the platform, including the inability to tweet, send direct messages or follow new accounts.

“I can’t see if people respond to me. I have to go check. There’s no notification. And regular mentions don’t work. At all. Not once,” New York Times writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner tweeted last week. “It makes it not just not fun but not usable.”

Even when Twitter is up and running, some users have spotted a different issue recently: their “for you” timelines feel clogged with posts they don’t want to see, including too many of Musk’s tweets and replies. After some publications pointed out the sudden surge in Musk posts in users’ feeds last month, the Twitter CEO responded: “Please stay tuned while we make adjustments.”

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Twitter failures go from bad to worse, users wonder how long it can stay online