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Twitter's cap on posts disrupts crucial data flow during severe weather events in Colorado

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Posted at 8:31 PM, Jul 05, 2023

DENVER — With a lot of storms moving through Colorado lately, the National Weather Service in Boulder turns to social media to get information out quickly. But it had a snag on Tuesday.

NWS Boulder sent out a tweet during Tuesday’s storms saying it was having trouble with the platform.

One tweet read, “Due to issues with Twitter rate limits, we are unable to access most tweets at this time. Send reports to our other social media accounts or direct through our email/phone lines. If you are a storm spotter, head to https://weather.gov/bou/spotters for additional info. #cowx”

NWS Boulder isn’t the only one experiencing issues with the social media platform. This week, Twitter owner Elon Musk announced that the social media platform would be limiting the number of tweets users can view per day.

At first, the limit was set at 600 tweets per day for unverified users and 6,000 for verified users. After facing public backlash, Musk later upped the tweet limits to 800 for unverified users, 400 for new unverified users and 8,000 for verified users.

He upped it once again later on in the day to 10,000 for verified users, 1,000 for unverified users and 500 for new unverified users.

A second tweet sent out by NWS Boulder afterward read, “While we have found some workarounds to view specific tweets, we are not able to efficiently sift through this during active severe weather events. Thank you for your understanding. Automated watches and warnings will still disseminate as normal, but no other tweets are planned.”

Greg Heavener, the warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder says social media plays an important role in helping NWS disseminate information but also to obtain it from people on the ground about storms.

“We're able to change the wording in a warning if either has been verified,” Heavener said. “It really helps to fortify our decision-making process in terms of whether we are issuing warnings or if we have issued warnings, it kind of helps them to beef up the warning.”

Heavener says NWS uses Twitter mainly for data mining to see visualizations of the impact of heavy rain, hail, snow, etc. However, it is only one piece of the puzzle so he doesn’t think the interruption in service affected NWS operations.

As the tweet limits and summer storms continue, though, he encourages people who want information or who want to report what’s happening in their area to find other means like calling the NWS directly.

Twitter limits National Weather Service

Dr. Samuel Jay, a communications professor specializing in digital, mobile and social media and persuasion at Metropolitan State University of Denver, is considering the implications tweet limits could have on disseminating important information in emergencies.

“It’s being used by police forces to update their communities about things happening, such as school shutdowns,” Jay said. “I do think that it offered a lot of really, really valuable resources for a resource for folks. And I'm just concerned with what's going to happen now.”

Jay says as a whole, the public has learned to tune out communications that come through their phones either in the form of text messages or push alerts because they are so frequent.

News organizations and government agencies also take longer to update their websites, so the most immediate information is usually put out on social media for people to obtain.

Limiting tweet amounts not only affects businesses but also affects the sharing and gathering of information. So, as long as the tweet limits remain, Jay says people need to keep in mind that Twitter is also a business.

“It just goes to show that companies like Twitter, or Facebook or Meta that we lean on for so much of our life, especially news gathering, they aren't necessarily there for that. They're there to kind of keep us engaged,” he said.

So, for the near future anyway, he says people may need to retrain themselves to find their immediate information elsewhere.


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