Will Elon Musk kill Substack?
The fragmentation of the internet gets a push.
This Thursday evening, I was surprised to find that links to my blog no longer worked on Twitter — they could be quote-tweeted, but not retweeted, liked, or replied to. A quick investigation found that it wasn’t just me; any link with a “.substack.com” domain name was blocked. For a while, a link shortener could be used to get around the block, but on Friday, shortened links started being diverted to a warning message; though people can still click through, most probably won’t. Links to substacks with independent domains — e.g. slowboring.com — can still be posted as normal for now, though it’s unclear if these will eventually be blocked. (FYI, I’ve been intending to switch this blog to my own independent domain for a while, so this will prompt me to get off my butt and do that.)
(Update: Substack links appear to be working on Twitter again, but the link previews have been disabled.)
Why did Twitter cut off Substack? The reason is that Substack launched its own product, Notes, that is basically a Twitter clone. Elon Musk has a history of banning links to Twitter competitors — he banned links to Mastodon, Facebook, and Instagram last December, before being eventually persuaded to relent. Hopefully the Substack attack will be a similar case, and harmony between the internet’s main platform for short-form commentary and its main platform for long-form commentary will once again coexist in harmony. Or maybe not; only Elon himself can say when he feels he has sufficiently deterred a threat and can once again afford to be magnanimous.
In the meantime, Matt Taibbi, a top Substack writer who took the lead on Elon’s “Twitter Files” expose, had this to say:
When I asked [Elon] how I was supposed to market my work, I was given the option of posting my articles on Twitter instead of Substack.
Not much suspense there; I’m staying at Substack. You’ve all been great to me, as has the management of this company. Beginning early next week I’ll be using the new Substack Notes feature (to which you’ll all have access) instead of Twitter, a decision that apparently will come with a price as far as any future Twitter Files reports are concerned. It was absolutely worth it and I’ll always be grateful to those who gave me the chance to work on that story, but man is this a crazy planet.
Anyway, the big question is now whether Twitter — the bigger, more established platform — can essentially destroy Substack by cutting it off from the internet’s “town square”. It’s really a test of whether the internet can return to a fragmented form, or whether it will inevitably remain dominated by a few walled garden mega-platforms.
Substack Notes was never a real threat to Twitter
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