Over the weekend, the social media scene was thrown into unprecedented chaos and confusion after hundreds of millions of Twitter users worldwide were restricted from seeing new tweets (posts). Confronted with the error message called ‘rate limit exceeded,’ Twitter users were confused if the problem was one of the usual technical glitches that have bedeviled the platform in recent times.

To the amazement of the world, a few hours after the ‘lock-out,’ Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter, announced in a tweet that the platform will no longer allow unverified users (basically non-paying users) to view more than 600 tweets per day and 6,000 tweets for verified users per day. Less than an hour later, he updated the restriction by increasing the number of tweets for unverified users to 1,000 per day. With earlier complaints that Twitter is looking at blocking generative AI platforms from extreme data scraping, the motives seem to be far-reaching and fundamental to the future survival of Twitter.

While the incident has now cooled off and the restrictions are now regarded as temporary, the incident is highly significant. As brand managers and custodians, it calls into question the pivotal role of social media and its future in the scheme of things. Built on advertising and programmatic models, social media platforms are no longer able to sustain their huge revenue base in the face of competition, consumer price pressures, and global economic headwinds. The next few years could see major new social media platforms pivoting totally towards the subscription model. While streaming platforms such as Netflix could not survive in the long term without advertising, social media platforms could look to blend this model, and this would further reduce engagements and increase the cost per conversion for brands in the medium and long term.