Twitter changes lead to widespread blackouts after Elon Musk takeover


SAN FRANICSCO — Elon Musk’s Twitter is a house of cards.

On two recent occasions, almost exactly a month apart, it appeared that minor changes to Twitter’s code could break the site.

The latest outage came on Monday when thousands of users found they could not access links, images or other important aspects of the site.

“A small API change had huge consequences,” Twitter CEO Elon Musk wrote in a tweet on Monday, referring to the tool used by third-party developers who run programs that draw on Twitter data and post to the site. “The code stack is extremely crazy for no good reason. Will eventually need a complete rewrite.”

It was the second time on Monday that he turned to that explanation, both times calls the “crazy” website.

Since taking over Twitter, CEO Elon Musk has laid off more than two-thirds of the company’s employees, embarking on aggressive cost-cutting and shedding workers in part by forcing them to commit to an “extremely hardcore” workplace or leave the company. The massive layoffs led to widespread concern about Twitter’s ability to retain core functions, as critical engineering teams were reduced to one or zero employees.

In the months since the takeover—and subsequent layoffs—Twitter has faced multiple outages, preventing key functions: loading tweets and notifications, sending tweets and instant messages, accessing links and images. Each was said — by current and former employees, or Musk himself — to come as the company made changes to the code.

“Every error in code and operations is now fatal,” one former engineer told The Washington Post in November, explaining that those left “are going to be overwhelmed, overworked and because of that more likely to make mistakes. ” The former engineer spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Before Musk’s takeover, the company had a risk assessment team that examined product changes for anticipated problems. Twitter’s risk evaluation process was aimed at flagging potential problems before they arose. But the team was laid off after Musk took over, The Washington Post reported, leading to product rollouts that were riddled with errors.

Musk and Twitter did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Since taking over Twitter, Musk has followed through with a plan to cut 75 percent of the company’s workforce, aggressively cut costs and pursue new revenue streams, such as charging $8 a month for the company’s signature blue verification icons. But his tenure has also been marked by embarrassing mishaps, such as the botched rollout of the ticker feature, which resulted in a swarm of copycats and prompted Twitter to temporarily pause its subscription service on several occasions.

Musk went after Twitter, vowing to restore “freedom of speech” to the platform, firing the company’s previous roster of executives whom he had blamed for an approach to content moderation rooted in protecting against the harms of hate speech and misinformation. Musk also promised transparency about the old regime’s decisions — such as efforts to limit the spread of a New York Post story about the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop — but has knocked down on leaks of company information under own leadership.

Even before Musk’s takeover, Twitter employees had warned of the site’s vulnerabilities in the event of an outage. Twitter whistleblower Peiter Zatko warned of a potential incident of overlapping power outages at Twitter’s off-site data centers, for example, in a complaint obtained by congressional committees.

That kind of disruption, he said, could render critical data unrecoverable — and cause Twitter to go down for months. Despite concerns about Twitter’s vulnerable infrastructure, Musk ordered Twitter’s largest data center, in Sacramento, to close in December, The Washington Post reported at the time.

On Monday, Twitter users were met with errors almost as soon as they opened the page.

When users clicked on a link on Twitter, they were greeted with the message: “Your current API plan does not include access to this endpoint,” it said, and directed them to a page intended for developers.

On the website Down Detector, which tracks online outages, complaints increased: “User reports indicate problems on Twitter,” it says.

“We made an internal change that had some unintended consequences,” Twitter’s support account so in a tweet.

By late morning, some of the functions appeared to have been restored.

“Things should now be working as normal,” Twitter’s support account said in a tweet. “Thanks for joining us!”

The pattern on Monday mirrored an outage from early February, which occurred when Twitter made similar changes to its API, the data feed intended for developers.

Twitter faced a widespread outage on February 8 that left users unable to send tweets and direct messages, follow other accounts and upload content to their timelines.

“Starting February 9th, we will no longer support free access to the Twitter API, both v2 and v1.1. A paid base tier will be available instead,” Twitter wrote that month.

Musk said that Twitter tried to shut down because Twitter’s freely available data became “abused” of bots running scams, but later said the company would make a free version available, as criticism poured in over his aggressive efforts to monetize previously free sites.

That set of problems followed a widespread global outage Twitter faced in December.

In group chats among current and former engineers at the time, some speculated that the December outage had come after a software update went wrong.

Monday was not the first time Musk suggested that Twitter’s code needed to be completely rewritten. He has maintained that stance for months, since taking over the site last year. At a Twitter Spaces in December, the site’s live audio feature, he said the company’s code base needed to be overhauled.

Pressed by an attendee to explain what that meant, Musk became irritated.

“Unbelievable, wow,” he said after hesitation and pauses. “You’re a piece of shit. … What an idiot.”

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