The dumb reason Twitter won't allow retweeting tweets linking to Substack

The dumb reason Twitter won't allow retweeting tweets linking to Substack
Apr 2023

Twitter users on Friday began noticing that they could not retweet or reply to tweets containing links to the Substack.com 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.

For example, this tweet references my newsletter, understandingai.substack.com. When I try to retweet it, it gives me an error message saying, "Some actions on this tweet have been disabled by Twitter." If I try to reply to the same tweet, I get an error message saying, "Something went wrong, but don't fret--let's give it another shot." Even liking isn't allowed.

This tweet is identical, except that I linked to my custom domain, understandingai.org. I have no trouble liking, retweeting, or replying to it.

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

"We're investigating reports that Twitter embeds and authentication no longer work on Substack," Substack tweeted on Thursday. "We are actively trying to resolve this and will share updates as additional information becomes available."

I emailed Twitter's official press email address, [email protected], for comment. Twitter automatically replies to all emails at that account with the message "?." I don't expect a further response, as Twitter appears to have laid off most of its press shop. Tesla disbanded its PR department three years ago.

But it's not hard to guess why Twitter started restricting tweets about Substack. On Wednesday, Substack announced its Notes feature, which sounds an awful lot like Twitter.

"In Notes, writers will be able to post short-form content and share ideas with each other and their readers," Substack wrote in a blog post. "Like our Recommendations feature, Notes is designed to drive discovery across Substack. But while Recommendations lets writers promote publications, Notes will give them the ability to recommend almost anything--including posts, quotes, comments, images, and links."

This wouldn't be the first time Twitter has restricted the reach of rivals on its platform. Back in December, Twitter banned several technology reporters after they reported on the controversy over services that track Twitter-owner Elon Musk's private jet. That led to an exodus of users to Twitter rivals such as Mastodon. A few days later, Twitter started blocking links to Mastodon and other competing social media platforms.

As I write this, tweets linking to Mastodon accounts seem to be working again.

Substack has yet to respond to an email seeking comment. We'll update the story if we hear back.

Tim Lee was on staff at Ars from 2017 to 2021. He recently launched a new Substack newsletter, Understanding AI. It explores how AI works and how it's changing our world. You can subscribe to his newsletter here.