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Elon Musk Declares War on Independent Writers
Twitter's new "policy" is going to hurt a lot of writers doing important work
No one of good faith and sound mind still believes Elon Musk bought Twitter because of his undying love for free speech. But if such a person did exist, Musk’s desperate ploy on Friday morning erased any doubt.
As Mitchell Clark wrote in The Verge:
Writers trying to embed tweets in their Substack stories are in for a rude surprise: after pasting a link to the site, a message pops up saying that “Twitter has unexpectedly restricted access to embedding tweets in Substack posts” and explaining that the company is working on a fix.
After those reports surfaced, between Thursday night and Friday morning, Twitter apparently began to restrict promotion and visibility for tweets with links to Substack posts. New tweets linking directly to Substack.com can still be tweeted, but trying to retweet or like those tweets via Twitter’s website results in an error message saying, “Some actions on this Tweet have been disabled by Twitter,” while doing the same from within its apps or TweetDeck appears to work while failing silently.
As of this writing, neither Musk nor Twitter has commented on what happened. As with all things Twitter in the Musk era, this could be the result of a bug in the code. However, two days ago Substack’s CEO announced a forthcoming product called Substack Notes, which many viewed as a Twitter competitor.
Given Musk’s erratic pettiness, this is likely an intentional effort to take out Substack. In doing so, Musk could wreak havoc on the growing numbers of independent writers who have struck out on their own in recent years. Since you are reading this in a Substack newsletter, you can correctly assume that I am biased on this matter. Nonetheless, Musk’s latest shenanigans should concern anyone who, unlike Musk, truly cares about free expression.
Why It Matters
Those reading this newsletter signed up for Message Box from Twitter. If I couldn’t post my content on Twitter, my newsletter would never have gotten off the ground. If Substack writers cannot disseminate their products on Twitter, it’s nearly impossible for many of them to build a sustainable business. Connecting with an audience is the hardest part of launching a new media product. That task may now be close to impossible for writers on Substack.
Sure, Substack is just one newsletter platform. Theoretically, we could all move over to Ghost or another alternative, but who is to say that Musk or Zuck or another petulant billionaire tech baron won’t do the same thing?
The internet and social media have jaded our society. Despite this, the advent of the creator economy — where individuals build media businesses on their own, has been a very good thing. Diverse voices that old media passed over during hiring have emerged. Topics like climate change and LGBTQ+ rights, often ignored or covered incorrectly by traditional media, get more attention because authentic voices can now be heard.
Maybe Musk will fix this problem — maybe he won’t. Either way, this situation is a reminder of the dangers of relying on a small handful of social media platforms in the hands of capricious and avaricious owners.
What You Can Do
I am very fortunate. I started this newsletter more than two years ago and had an opportunity to grow it before this sudden change. I am also blessed to have a platform like Pod Save America and other Crooked Media properties to share my views and promote my work. Cutting me off from Twitter will hurt, but I will be fine. Others will not be so lucky. Twitter’s move will devastate those just starting out or who depend on Substack as their sole source of revenue. Here is a list of Substacks that I recommend. If you can, I hope you will consider subscribing to them.
Currently, it is still possible to share links to Substack content if they are put through a link shortener. Here is a link to Message Box (https://tinyurl.com/4ayrxcm5) that Twitter’s filter will not catch. If you can share it, I would very much appreciate it.
If you read a number of Substack newsletters, you may want to consider downloading the Substack App, which will help you keep up with the writers you love and discover new ones.
Thank you for indulging me. This is all so stupid and pedantic, but what else should you expect from Elon Musk?