X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter and owned by Elon Musk, seems to be implementing restrictions on users’ ability to access content from The New York Times. Starting in late July, there has been a noticeable decline in user engagement with X posts that include links to The New York Times. This decline in shares and other forms of interaction on tweets containing Times links has been sudden and significant. Interestingly, this decline is not mirrored in posts containing links to other news organizations such as CNN, the Washington Post, and the BBC, as reported by NewsWhip’s data, which analyzed the behaviour of 300,000 influential X users.
It’s worth noting that this decrease in engagement with Times-related posts appears to be specific to the X platform. Data from NewsWhip shows that engagement with New York Times links shared on Facebook has remained consistent compared to links from other news outlets.
Benedict Nicholson, a spokesperson for NewsWhip, commented on this trend, stating, “There was a drop off in engagement for NYT compared to the other sites in late July/early August.”
Employees at The New York Times have quickly noticed a concerning pattern regarding the reach of their articles on a popular social media platform. High-profile attempts to share Times articles on the forum have fallen short of expectations.
Declining Engagement and Investigative Concerns at The New York Times on Twitter
This issue came to the forefront recently when former President Barack Obama shared multiple New York Times articles focusing on healthcare costs. However, the platform reported that these posts reached fewer than 900,000 and 800,000 users, respectively. These numbers were notably lower compared to the engagement other posts by the former president had received since the platform began publicly sharing such data earlier in the year. For instance, a link to a Politico article shared by the president garnered nearly 13 million views.
The decline in reach has not gone unnoticed within the Times organization. According to two senior figures in the newsroom, Times leadership is aware of the issue and is actively investigating the underlying causes behind this drop in engagement.
When approached for a comment on the matter, a spokesperson for The New York Times declined to provide any official statement.
The reason behind the reduced engagement of The New York Times on Twitter has raised questions, and X has not responded to inquiries regarding this matter. However, this development highlights a broader trend in social media platforms over the past five years. There has been a shift away from platforms positioning themselves as neutral content distributors to platforms increasingly competing with traditional media outlets.
Elon Musk’s Influence and Targeted Actions
In this evolving landscape, Facebook has largely disengaged from the news business, while Twitter has transitioned towards embracing a more conservative media identity. Google and Apple are the dominant platform giants interested in distributing news content from external sources. Notably, X recently opposed a California law that required the disclosure of content moderation practices, citing First Amendment protections for its editorial decisions.
It’s worth noting that the decline in engagement on Twitter is not a significant issue for The New York Times. Like many major news organizations, most of its traffic and readership comes from sources outside of social media. Additionally, many readers still prefer the physical newspaper, as we will discuss later in this article.
However, the peculiar targeting of The New York Times on X raises questions. This is not the first instance where the platform has focused its actions on the Times since Elon Musk assumed a prominent role. Last year, Twitter briefly suspended Ryan Mac, a tech reporter at the Times. Earlier this summer, X implemented a brief delay for traffic originating from Twitter links leading to the Times, Reuters, and social media competitors like Facebook and Instagram.
Elon Musk’s Controversial Actions and Criticism of The Times
This action followed criticism from Elon Musk regarding the Times’ coverage of events in his home country, South Africa. Musk even provided guidance on circumventing the Times paywall. A few days later, he characterized the Times as a “declining, once-powerful, but fundamentally doomed to be regional & increasingly archaic legacy publication.”
During this period, a spokesperson for the Times expressed concern about the targeted pressure on their news organization for unclear reasons and noted that they had not received an explanation from X.
Considering Elon Musk’s recent history of taunting the Times on Twitter and the fact that the paper’s engagement remains unaffected on Facebook and other platforms, alternative explanations for these actions become less credible.