For weeks, Twitter users have been noticing tweets in reply to President Donald Trump becoming disconnected from the original threads, leaving the tweets alone in the twittersphere. Though conspiracy theorists across the political spectrum were quick to cry censorship, Twitter’s VP of engineering this week clarified that the orphaned tweets were caused by a “long standing technical issue” triggered when tweets generate a large number of replies.
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While other public figures on Twitter may have larger followings, Trump’s tweets apparently generate a much larger volume of interaction, putting greater strain on a flawed system. Mashable reports, though, that similar issues have been seen by users replying to Trump staffers Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway.
Twitter is, at least historically, notorious for uneven handling of system loads. Until it was discontinued in 2013, users were often a little too familiar with the whimsical Fail Whale, a graphic used to signal widespread service outages.
But the issue of the disconnected tweets is in some ways even more pernicious than the sitewide outages of yesteryear. Arguments that Twitter was censoring either pro- or anti-Trump tweets might not have been accurate, but they reflected a real erosion of faith in Twitter’s openness. That openness—the sense that you can interact directly and freely with anyone—is key to Twitter’s appeal.
That President Trump’s tweets in particular triggered a system failure is bad news for the persistently beleaguered company. Trump has arguably become an ambassador for Twitter – for better or for worse – and could help attract the new users that Twitter badly needs. But, as Mashable notes, new users who find their contributions out in the cold could quickly depart in frustration, before they even really figure out how the platform works.
Though Twitter says they’re working on a fix for the bug, no specific timeline has been announced.