Twitter limits Substack engagement, but why Elon, why?

    Today, Twitter is alight with controversy as the platform, led by Elon Musk, has initiated limits against Substack.

    Substack is a platform that provides publishing, payment, analytics, and design infrastructure to support subscription newsletters. It allows writers to send digital newsletters directly to subscribers and recently introduced a new feature called Notes that offers a Twitter-like experience (currently in public preview).

    Those writers who publish on Substack, enjoy quite a lot of freedom compared to other platforms and leverage subscriber payments for revenue, rather than advertising.

    Many of these content creators leverage Twitter’s much larger audience to drive traffic to their Substacks.

    Twitter’s change today has come without public statements from the @Twitter or @elonmusk accounts, but is substantial for Substack users.


    Almost a day after the controversy around Twitter and Substack began, Twitter CEO Elon Musk has addressed it in a reply to Bret Weinstein. Musk claims Substack were attempting to clone a massive portion of the Twitter database. It is clear now that this move was seen as an attempt to compete with Twitter, under those terms, it’s not surprising Twitter moved to remove API access for substack (users can use Twitter login), remove Twitter embeds (reduces functionality on the Substack side). The move to mark Substack links as untrusted is perhaps a bit of a stretch, but this is now an all out commercial war between the two platforms.

    Substack posted on their Twitter account that they are investigating reports that Twitter embeds (of substack links) and Twitter auth to sign into Substack have been disabled.

    While the loss of Twitter auth to the platform is unlikely to be a big impact (lots of alternatives), the larger loss are Tweets embedded into Substack articles, which are now showing as just links, rather than nicely presented embeds (as they do on other blogging platforms).

    Other users are reporting that Twitter users are prevented from engaging with any Tweet that contains a link to Substack. This means you can’t Like, Retweet or comment on the post. This move will actually reduce engagement on the Twitter side, which is a strange move.

    While many are confused by the change, it is noteworthy, that this is not an outright ban on the platform, as the links posted (now displaying as just links, rather than embedded previews) are still active and can be used to drive traffic to Substack.

    After Elon Musk purchased Twitter, he moved to engage a number of trusted writers to release historical information known as the Twitter Files, revealing how operations at the company were run previous to his takeover.

    One of the key journalists in Twitter Files, who was also a participant on Twitter Spaces, was Matt Taibii. Taibii is a big Substack user and has obviously been impacted by the change today, announcing he is leaving Twitter.

    Twitter users have also noted that Elon has recently unfollowed Taibbi on Twitter.

    Without official word from Elon Musk, it’s not clear what the exact motivation was for the change and if it’s permanent. Without that information, we are left to speculate if it’s a move to impact a competitor, although that theory doesn’t make a lot of sense when you consider Twitter still supports many other competing services.

    Previously Musk had to step back from a ban on linking out to 3rd party social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Mastodon, Truth Social or 3rd-party link aggregators like Linktree.


    It looks like Twitter is now also presenting users with a warning when they click a link to substack that this site may be unsafe.

    Jason Cartwright
    Jason Cartwright
    Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis. Disclaimer: Tesla Shareholder from 20/01/2021

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