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Substack authors argue Twitter’s newsletter restriction hurts business and Twitter.

Photo: Substack

Twitter began banning the marketing of links to Substack newsletters this week, despite owner Elon Musk’s advocacy of free expression. Substack authors use Twitter to gain newsletter subscriptions. Thus the shift is a major setback.

“It looks like Musk is making decisions based on his personal financial interests and petty frustrations — even if it makes Twitter objectively worse for users,” writes Judd Legum, creator of Popular Information, a politics-focused weekly with over 240,000 subscribers, in an email to The Verge. “If this continues, it’s hard to justify spending time developing information on Twitter.”

Many Substackers who advertise their newsletters on Twitter struggle with the Thursday night-Friday morning prohibition on Substack marketing. Users cannot like, comment, or retweet tweets that link to “substack.com.” The regulation change affects most Substack newsletters, including some of its biggest brands, even if some writers have custom domains.

It drastically restricts Twitter newsletter propagation. Authors tweeting substack.com URLs now won’t gain any engagement. An intriguing substack.com link cannot be shared or replied to by followers. It can affect the newsletter’s author’s company by reducing its visibility.

The Shortcut author Matt Swider uses Twitter to convert new subscribers. “When platforms are a conflict like this, it just damages creators.”

Substack creator Laura Jedeed told The Verge that tweets that went “extremely well” drove her highest subscriber surges. “I think people recognize Twitter is fading and they want to keep hearing from me when it comes apart,” Jedeed adds. “He’s stupidly directing traffic my way, but like everything he does, it’s murdering the goose that lays the golden egg.”

Twitter and Musk have ignored the restriction. Musk closed Twitter’s sponsored newsletter business.

The restriction on Substack links is significant enough that Matt Taibbi, who worked directly with Twitter for many “The Twitter Files” exposes, said Friday that he will switch to Substack Notes.

Some have considered quitting Twitter. If Substack limitations are not lifted in a week, Laura Jedeed will leave Twitter. The Intrinsic Viewpoint author Erik Hoel terminated his Twitter Blue membership and “likely won’t be on this godforsaken network for much longer.” Eric Newcomer of the Newcomer newsletter encourages readers to join up for his newsletter and watch for Substack Notes, a new Twitter-like tool Substack introduced on Wednesday.

After the Notes revelation, Twitter restricted Substack link sharing, which Taibbi thinks was a deliberate retaliation.

Substack founders Jairaj Sethi, Chris Best, and Hamish McKenzie called Twitter’s decision a “reminder of why fractures are starting to emerge in the internet’s conventional business structures.” The business wants to “ensure that authors and artists receive only greater ownership and control over their futures.”

Musk has stressed Twitter’s free speech and his goal of making it a “digital town square” since announcing his acquisition. Musk announced last year that Twitter would allow “freedom of expression, but not freedom of reach,” meaning it would hide unpleasant messages but allow other information.

Nevertheless, Substack’s new restrictions on linking to other platforms have users questioning Musk’s dedication to free expression, especially since this isn’t the first time. In December, Musk barred journalists critical of him and unexpectedly prohibited links to Facebook, Instagram, Mastodon, Truth Social, and other competitive sites. Musk reversed the modifications, promising to vote on key policy changes from then on.

In an email to The Verge, journalist Glenn Greenwald said, “Substack is a vital platform for independent journalism and for providing quality alternatives to corporate media, and it would be both unfortunate and contrary to Twitter’s current management’s stated free speech goals to ban both Substack writers and readers from using Twitter to promote Substack articles.” Greenwald publishes for Rumble’s Locals platform.

Yet, some larger Substackers may be able to leave Twitter securely. For example, Legum tells The Verge that Substack’s recommendations network now produces “roughly 3-4x more” new subscribers than Twitter. Substack launched its recommendations function in April 2022, saying, “writers cross-promoting each other has been the key to discovery on the internet from its inception.”

Newbie is confident since he has more Substack subscribers (more than 58,000) than Twitter followers (~37,800). He’s still dissatisfied. “Every platform matters,” Newcomer argues. “So it’s incredibly upsetting that Elon Musk has talked so much about promoting independent voices and then seems to be chopping them off at the knees.”

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