Monday, April 10, 2023

Twitter Restricts Substack Links

Timothy B. Lee (Hacker News):

Twitter users on Friday began noticing that they could not retweet or reply to tweets containing links to the domain. This behavior seems to have started less than 48 hours after the popular newsletter platform announced a new product called Notes that will compete directly with Twitter.


In the last 24 hours, Twitter also appears to have started blocking tweet-embedding in Substack posts.


I emailed Twitter’s official press email address,, for comment. Twitter automatically replies to all emails at that account with the message “💩.”

Elon Musk:

  1. Substack links were never blocked.[…]
  2. Substack was trying to download a massive portion of the Twitter database to bootstrap their Twitter clone, so their IP address is obviously untrusted.
  3. Turns out Matt [Taibbi] is/was an employee of Substack.

As far as I can tell, (1) and (3) are false.

See also: The Verge.


Twitter is now censoring competitors by outright lying and placing false “this is harmful/spam” warnings when clicking on competitors’ links. This caused me to (for the n-th time since 2022) Google for “Twitter alternatives”. But clear results are hard to find in today’s SEO-mess, and sifting through old/unstructured news articles isn’t ideal either. So I spent a few hours making (and

It’s a simple table of all currently known Twitter Alternatives and their main traits, like Top Countries, Platforms, Security, Notable Accounts, etc.


My main learning from this is that surprisingly, nobody has literally just cloned Twitter and focused on porting everyone over.


[Nilay Patel:] Just to be clear, Elon’s claim is: “Substack was trying to download a massive portion of the Twitter database to bootstrap their Twitter clone.” Were you doing that?

[Chris Best:] No. And it’s one of several claims that got bandied around during this time. It’s not true.


We’ve been trying every route that we can to calm this down and sort of find a peaceful resolution that can help writers. That hasn’t totally worked, and we haven’t had any answers to our specific questions of, “Are there things that we could do to make this better?”


Are there things that we could do to resolve this? They haven’t answered with any specifics.

Mike Masnick:

You’ve likely heard about recent leaks of Pentagon documents that were first leaked via a Discord server. On Wednesday, the Washington Post’s Shane Harris and Samuel Oakford broke quite a story about where the documents came from, discussing the small, private Discord group, and the guy who operated it, who apparently went to great lengths to leak these classified documents.


Anyhow, all that is lead up to the fact that Twitter now appears to be permanently suspending at least some accounts that have shared the Washington Post story.

Cabel Sasser:

I just want to confirm: this was 1000% a lie, right?

Amanda Silberling (via John Gruber):

Numerous Twitter users are reporting a bug in which Circle tweets — which are supposed to reach a select group, like an Instagram Close Friends story — are surfacing on the algorithmically generated For You timeline. That means that your supposedly private posts might breach containment to reach an unintended audience, which could quickly spark some uncomfortable situations.


18 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

I think it’s quite reasonable to prevent linking being that Twitter is a private business, especially considering the pulling of its database by substack.

But the messaging to users is quite unreasonable and should be tailored more appropriately. Like the API killing, Musk should have communicated in advance and in a conscious and ethical manner.

That said, I do find Twitter to be far more enjoyable with less hostility between users since his takeover. I don’t see what the fuss is all about and I hope the tech community comes back.

@Chuck Preventing linking is legal, but it goes directly against what Musk said the platform would do under his leadership. Twitter was also blocking Mastodon for a time, even though it wasn’t trying to download the database.

Old Unix Geek

Matt Taibbi says he's not employed by Substack, so Elon got that wrong.

Twitter should not be blocking links to Substack or Mastodon for that matter. Substack shouldn't be downloading tons of Twitter data to seed their Twitter competitor, if indeed that is what they are doing.

I don’t necessarily agree with Musk, but if you’re referring to his push for free speech, I don’t think it goes against that.

Take for instance if you walked into a CVS and started uttering anything that the company deemed inappropriate or against its policies, asking you to leave for that reason would not be in violation of constitutionally protected free speech.

Chuck: I agree that businesses restricting speech is not the same as the government doing so. But CVS of your example isn't somewhere people go to hear third-party information. This is more like a music venue with a policy preventing musicians announcing from stage their new album releases or shows they're doing elsewhere. Or a TV station preventing a guest from mentioning they do a radio show or have a newspaper column. Still not first amendment material, but would at least raise an eyebrow.

@Alexander I appreciate your point, but the laws of the land don’t make that distinction.

@Chuck So if you admit there's no free speech issue, what exactly was the justification for Elon buying Twitter again? @Michael Tsai is 100% correct Elon was banging the freedom of expression drum as his leading reason for the purchase. Then again, had the courts let him illegally back out of his binding deal to buy Twitter, the chief Twit would have.

If Elon lied about statement 1 and 3 in his tweet that was quoted, isn't his credibility further shot? Not to mention the whole flap over NPR and BBC, which was also proven to be a falsehood. If someone can independently verify Elon's claims, I'd be willing to mull the point, but he's long since burned through any goodwill where anyone should trust something he states as fact.

@Nathan I can't say why he purchased it other than he's admitted to loving Twitter and wanting to make it more enjoyable, which I honestly think he has done. Twitter truly is much better today than it was before his acquisition.

I can say that point (1) is NOT false. If you review the warning message after clicking a Substack link, it is just a warning, albeit a terribly worded one. At the bottom of the warning, you can click through to the Substack article. This blog post should be updated to reflect that. And like I mentioned in my first comment, I do think it is an unreasonable warning message. For the record, I do think it's a stretch to mark Substack as "untrusted" even if they tried to pull the database.

@Nathan I was not really following Musk before the Twitter purchase, so I guess I’m late to the party, but after this and other statements over the past few months, his credibility is shot with me. I wouldn’t necessarily say that he’s trying to deceive, but I don’t think people should assume he knows what he’s talking about or that he’ll stick with whatever plan he announces.

@Chuck I think you’re referring to a later iteration with the warning. There were many reports, initially, of not even being able to reply/retweet tweets that had Substack links. You’d just get an error. If Twitter writes about what they did and what the new policy is, I’ll link to it. But I don’t intend to keep updating to follow the silent evolution of their linking policy.

Old Unix Geek

I view Twitter a bit like an extended pub. If the server at the pub inserted himself into people's conversations with their friends, and told them they could not discuss certain topics, it would not go down well. If a government minder appeared at every table and steered the conversation to "approved topics", censoring unapproved ones, he'd find himself in a world of hurt. Sure, a pub is a privately owned space, but that doesn't mean the owners or government can behave in that way, without serious consequences. That kind of behavior is simply not socially acceptable. I see no reason why Twitter is any different, just because the environment is made of bits instead of atoms. This is a human thing that predates any "corporate rights" ideologies: butt out if your presence is not wanted, or else.

There are no free-speech absolutists once reality sets in. I hope that anyone who thought Musk buying Twitter would usher in a new era of free speech on that platform, particularly those who are still defending him at this point, will take a hard look at the flaws in their own thought processes.

And yeah, Twitter banning links to substack is clearly legal, and not a violation of the first amendment. Nobody is arguing anything else. But so was banning right-wing extremists that used Twitter to threaten people, and Musk ostensibly bought Twitter because he thought those people shouldn't be banned, because he's a "free-speech absolutist," so it's particularly hilarious that he's now decided to ban anything *he* doesn't like.


"considering the pulling of its database by substack"

What does that even mean? I'm guessing they don't just copy everybody's tweets. Do they have some kind of import function for new users, or what? IF so, don't these people own their own tweets, and should be able to import them?

"Twitter truly is much better today than it was before his acquisition"

For whom? For Musk, who ensures that everybody gets to see his own tweets? I don't find that particularly enjoyable, but I'm sure Musk is having a grand old time.

"If the server at the pub inserted himself into people's conversations with their friends"

That, right there, is the problem. You don't have conversations with your friends on Twitter. Twitter is like a pub where everybody screams their opinions out into the room, and then the server randomly repeats these opinions to other people in the pub who hadn't heard them when you initially yelled them out.

If you start screaming out your racist opinions in a pub, or even threaten people, in most cases, you'll be removed from that place right quick. It's easy to stand outside the pub and complain about how the evil pub owner is throwing out all of the assholes, but once you buy that pub, you'll figure out that just doing nothing about all of the screaming and fighting won't work, because most people don't enjoy going to the pub where there's constant screaming and fighting.

But that's not the real problem. The real problem is that there is only one pub.

If Elon is the only source we have that Substack was scraping their database then it's probably a flat out lie. The guy loves to lie.

I'm assuming he means that they're trying to clone their social graph because nothing else would make sense. Then again, Elon doesn't make sense.

Also, he did NOT want to buy Twitter remember. He tried really hard to get out of that deal.

Old Unix Geek

@Plume: Just because you passively consume whatever Twitter's algorithm gives you, doesn't mean everyone does. I choose whose tweets I read. It's not difficult: although I prefer nitter because it's faster. If I want to read Michael's tweets, I can do without anyone else inserting themselves in the way.

@Michael You're right about the reply/retweet block, but the link was always present.

Links to Substack are now unblocked since this blog post, but no explanation was given sadly :(

Of course Elon has the right to block whatever he wants. Just as we have the right to call him a petty doofus without neither plan, nor spline.

I also think comparing Twitter to pubs, squares, shops etc is counter productive. We all know what Twitter is, no need to phase shift it out of focus.

"Just because you passively consume whatever Twitter's algorithm gives you, doesn't mean everyone does"

Most people *do* just read what the algorithm gives them. If you want to subscribe to what specific people say, Twitter is not the tool. It was originally perhaps built for that purpose, but it never worked particularly well for it (see: all the people who thought Twitter was just for talking to friends, said something stupid in public, and found out), and it's definitely no longer what Twitter is today.

So perhaps that's the root of the problem: you see Twitter as one type of tool, when in reality, it's a very different type of tool.

Old Unix Geek

@Plume: I don't find that's very convincing It worked as a hammer 16 years ago and it still does as far as I'm concerned. I see no reason to change my way of using it or thinking about it to conform to what you believe is "reality". If they turn off the ability to follow specific people, then your view will be reality, and I'll stop using it entirely because then it will be useless to me. I have no interest in having my world view formed by some algorithm.

Leave a Comment