X, formerly known as Twitter, has made another significant change to its platform. Owner Elon Musk has removed automatically generated headlines from links to external websites, including news articles. This move is part of Musk’s ongoing efforts to reshape the social media company and reduce traffic to other sites.
Under the new format, when users post links to third-party news stories or websites, the articles’ lead images and web domains automatically load in preview tiles, but without any headlines. This means that readers are deprived of key context from the publishers about their articles. Even shared links to non-news websites are affected, although paid advertisements still retain their headlines.
When asked for a comment, X did not immediately respond.
This change is part of a broader strategy by X to discourage users from clicking on external links, including those leading to news sites. Musk says that the company’s algorithm is optimized to keep users on X for as long as possible, so external links receive less attention. However, critics argue that this move could be a deliberate attempt to undermine news organizations’ reach on the platform.
Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, a journalism professor at Cardiff University, expressed skepticism about Musk’s claim that the change was driven by aesthetic considerations. She believes it is more likely part of a larger trend to make X less user-friendly for news organizations. Without headlines, platform users will have less context about the content of the links and, consequently, little reason to click on them. This could lead to a significant adverse impact on click-through rates and reduce user engagement on X itself.
Furthermore, this change could have financial implications for news media sites that rely on ad revenue generated from traffic. It remains to be seen what effect this latest alteration will have on publishers.
Musk has a history of portraying traditional news media websites as direct competitors to X. In the past, X accompanied links to news media sites with “verified” badges to build trust in their content. However, these badges were later removed from the accounts of news sites that refused to pay a monthly fee. This move aligns with Musk’s long-standing grudge against journalists who have criticized him.
It should be noted that this change comes after a previous analysis by The Washington Post found that X briefly throttled traffic to third-party news sites, social media platforms, and other websites. This action required users to wait for about five seconds before loading certain pages, potentially reducing traffic and ad revenue for the affected sites.
According to a 2023 study by Oxford University’s Reuters Institute, X ranks as the third most frequently used social media site in the United States for news, trailing behind Facebook and YouTube. It will be interesting to see how these changes impact the platform’s position in the market and its relationship with news organizations.
In addition to removing headlines from article previews, Musk has also relaxed other policies aimed at combating misinformation and disinformation on the site. This has resulted in the reinstatement of banned accounts and the reduction of the company’s moderation efforts. Unfortunately, this has led to an increase in digital harassment against religious and ethnic minorities.
Overall, Musk’s continued reshaping of X raises questions about the platform’s future and its role in the dissemination of news and information. Users and news organizations alike will need to adapt to these changes and find new ways to navigate the evolving landscape of social media.