In the last few weeks, Twitter has restricted Substack writers’ ability to share their work by hiding Substack previews and limiting the distribution of Substack links. It has also cut Substack off from its API – the interface that allows computer programs to communicate with each other.
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In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Substack team expressed disappointment in Twitter: “We are deeply disappointed by Twitter’s actions and have been trying to resolve the issue (unsuccessfully so far) … At the same time, we recognise that – fair or not – this was probably inevitable. Twitter’s actions are part of a well-established history of social media platforms limiting writers’ and creators’ ability to share their work.”
Twitter’s share of Substack traffic has been waning even before its recent actions. At the start of the year, Twitter on average drove less than 3% of all views across Substack. Today, it accounts for less than 2%.
The Substack team do not attribute this latest move by Twitter to censorship but to profits. Ad-based social platforms want users glued to their feeds so they design products to keep them from leaving their platform. By clicking on a link to read a Substack article, the Twitter user is leaving Twitter’s platform.
Twitter’s actions against sharing material posted on Substack are not new. The Substack team used Twitter’s action against Instagram twenty years ago as an example:
“In 2012, Twitter stopped embedding Instagram posts after Facebook acquired the photo-sharing app. Today, Facebook deprioritises links that take people away from its feed. Google prioritises YouTube search results over TikTok and Vimeo.”
Substack was created in direct response to this kind of behaviour by social media companies, Substack’s statement said. Adding:
“Writers cannot build sustainable businesses if their connection to their audience depends on unreliable platforms that frequently change what you see or what partners they prioritise. That world is built on shaky foundations that are crumbling all around us. You need only look at the fates of BuzzFeed, Mic, and Upworthy to see what happens when a media business over-relies on social platforms.
“Our mission of building a new economic engine for culture is a long-term project. It can be achieved only in partnership with writers and creators, and with real, steady gains that can’t be undone by a third party.”
As is always the case, the circumstances surrounding Twitter restricting interactions with Substack articles may not be as simple as the latest statement from the Substack team is describing.
In early April, Matt Taibbi, the writer Elon Musk hand-picked to lead coverage of the Twitter Files, left Twitter and said he will solely be using Substack going forward. In response, one of Musk’s Twitter profiles unfollowed Taibbi’s Twitter account. Interestingly, the feud between Taibbi and Musk came just one day after the former appeared on MSNBC. MSNBC had asked Taibbi why he had not covered the reports that Twitter was censoring certain users at the behest of the Indian government. Mashable has more on this story HERE.
The Daily Beast referred to exchanges between Musk and Substack CEO Chris Best as going to “war online.” A day after Taibbi suddenly and publicly abandoned Twitter, Musk slammed his former golden boy as a liar, and an “employee” of Substack. Best took to Substack Notes to claim “none” of what Musk had contended was true, including his claim that Taibbi was a Substack employee. On the same day, 7 April, Musk pushed out a code tweak that prevented users from engaging with anything having to do with Substack.
Mediaite took the view that Twitter had identified Substack as a direct competitor. On the flip side, last year, Tech Crunch took the view Substack was targeting Twitter with the launch of new features.
There may be yet more to this story. For example, at the end of last year, Business Insider reported that Elon Musk was “open to the idea” of buying Substack after a Twitter user said doing so would give him control over the “narrative layer” of the internet.
A user profile tweeted: “Elon Musk, maybe buy Substack. You would have the information layer with Twitter and the narrative layer. Corporate media would then have [to] specialise on reporting government leaks, from ‘people familiar with the matter’.”
Musk responded: “I’m open to the idea.”
Featured image: Social Media Showdown: Substack Vs Twitter
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