June 6, 2023

SAN FRANCISCO — Newsletter service Substack announced Wednesday that it has built a Twitter competitor. On Thursday, Twitter blocked Substack authors from sharing tweets in their newsletters. On Friday, Twitter took steps to prevent the Substack newsletter from spreading on the platform.

Twitter’s move to crack down on upstarts is an abrupt departure from normal behavior for internet companies and publishers. It also gives more ground to critics who say that while Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, has often praised the importance of free speech, he hasn’t shied away from restricting competitors and content he doesn’t like .

The new fight with a young company is the latest controversy over Mr. Musk’s tumultuous ownership of Twitter, which he bought about six months ago. He fired more than 75% of his staff, was sued by commercial landlords for failing to pay office rent, and lost advertisers.

While Mr. Musk has long clashed with mainstream news outlets, the attack on Substack has largely affected independent writers, some of whom rely on Twitter to attract readers to their work.

“It’s a huge inconvenience for us,” said Hunter Harris, a writer who distributes the newsletter. Bye, on the substack. “It’s too small.”

In a statement, Substack founders Chris Best, Hamish McKenzie, and Jairaj Sethi said they were “disappointed” by Twitter’s decision to stifle participation in any tweet with a link to Substack.

“Writers should enjoy the freedom to share links to Substack or anywhere else,” they said. “This sudden change reminds us why writers deserve a model that holds them accountable, rewards great work with money, and protects Freedom of the press and freedom of speech.”

Musk did not respond to a request for comment.

Twitter and Substack share a major investor, venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, which could be said to be playing referee in this dispute. A spokesman for Andreessen Horowitz, which led a $65 million investment round in Substack in 2021 and invested $400 million in Mr. Musk’s Twitter last year, did not respond to a request for comment.

Substack’s new feature is called Notes, and it mimics Twitter in several ways. It allows users to post short updates and have others like, retweet or reply to them. The change Twitter made on Friday means Twitter users can still share links to Substack’s newsletter, but will prevent other users from liking or retweeting the links.

Before Musk’s acquisition, Twitter sometimes limited likes and retweets to prevent content that violated its policies from spreading widely on the platform.This measure is used to Restricted range Former President Donald J. Trump made false assertions in tweets about how votes will be counted in the 2020 election.

Twitter has been an important distribution channel for Substack authors, many of whom rely on subscriptions to make money independently of traditional media channels.

Some of Substack’s most popular writers have been outspoken supporters of Mr. Musk, who has given them special access to comb through and post “Twitter files,” internal communications that the billionaire said showed Twitter Bias from previous management. One of the writers, Matt Taibbi, said in a tweet on Friday that he was “appalled” by Twitter’s Substack restrictions and would be leaving Twitter in favor of posting on Substack Notes.

These changes have angered authors who use both Twitter and Substack to distribute their work. “I can’t explain how ridiculous and stupid this is,” said newsletter author Rohit Krishnan weird loop canonwrite on tweet“Not to mention stinginess and vindictiveness.”

Ms. Harris said that while Twitter doesn’t drive a lot of traffic to her newsletter, the restrictions work against readers who might want to share links to her work or discuss it on Twitter. She added that preventing Substack authors from including tweets in their newsletters also deprives Twitter users of proper credit.

“Any Twitter alternative would be great,” Ms. Harris said of Substack’s move to build a competitor. “I want another place, like Twitter, but not Twitter.”

Other writers said Mr. Musk’s latest move contradicted his statements about free speech on Twitter.

“By cutting off access to Substack, Elon is disabling access to free and informative content on the internet,” explain Simon Rosenberg, who wrote an communication about politics. “This is censorship at its worst.”

The Substack mess isn’t the first time Mr Musk has blocked a competing service from being shared on Twitter. In December, he suspended Twitter users, including several journalists, from linking to Mastodon after a Mastodon user shared public information about the location of Musk’s private jet.

He continues to ban users share link to Facebook, Instagram and several other social media companies, but reversed course after the backlash. Under pressure from supporters who saw the move as an abandonment of his principles of free speech, Mr. Musk said in December he would step down as Twitter’s chief executive once he found a replacement. Mr. Musk has not done so.

Mr Musk also escalated his longstanding feud with mainstream media. On Saturday, he removed the New York Times verification checkmark that distinguished his Twitter account from impostors. Mr. Musk had said Twitter would remove the verification badge starting April 1, but most verified accounts retained the check mark.

On Wednesday, Twitter labeled NPR’s Twitter account “state-sponsored media.” The label that the platform has used in the past to identify propaganda outlets has sparked a backlash from press freedom groups.exist Email to NPR Reporter On Wednesday, Mr. Musk acknowledged that the label was “probably inaccurate” and added, “We should fix it.”

This week, Mr. Musk made some unexplained changes to Twitter, replacing the company’s bird logo for days with an image of a Shiba Inu associated with the cryptocurrency Dogecoin.

The company also covered the letter “w” in the name “Twitter” on a large public sign outside its San Francisco headquarters on Tuesday, in what some observers saw as a crude joke.

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