Twitter's Sudden Substack Block Has Suspicious Timing

Twitter has undergone a series of changes since CEO Elon Musk took over. On April 6, another major adjustment came down the pike, a day after Substack unveiled a competing service, "Notes," that would offer a tweet alternative. Twitter enacted changes that would prevent Substack writers from adding tweets to their newsletters. A day later, the outlet went a step farther, working to block Substack newsletters from gaining an audience on Twitter altogether.

In a statement provided to The Verge, Substack's founders, Chris Best, Hamish McKenzie, and Jairaj Seth noted their disappointment with this move. "This abrupt change is a reminder of why writers deserve a model that puts them in charge, that rewards great work with money, and that protects the free press and free speech," they said. 

With the introduction of Notes, Substack writers are able to produce quick updates rather than full-scale newsletters to keep readers abreast of their work between routine productions. Users have found that, as of Friday, Twitter users are still able to share links to newsletters, but the Notes posts can't be shared, and problems with retweeting, liking, or replying to Substack content more broadly persist for writers.

Free speech or selective speech?

Musk hasn't shied away from tangling with corporate news outlets in the past. Most recently, Twitter began applying a "state-affiliated media" tag to NPR's Twitter presence, a shot aimed at mainstream news organizations.

" freedom advocates and the network itself were taken aback to see that Twitter had placed NPR in the same category as government-aligned propaganda outlets in China and Russia — despite the network's federal support, in the form of competitive grants, accounting for about 1% of its annual operating budget," NPR wrote.

Substack users are essentially exclusively independent writers looking to offer their unique points of view to audiences that find them compelling in the same way that Twitter users send out their unadulterated thoughts to whoever might care to read them. This change appears to be timed with the unveiling Substack's rival function in Notes, and designed to limit the reach of free speech. 

Interestingly enough, however, both companies are financed in part by the same venture capitalist, Andreessen Horowitz ($400 million into Musk's acquisition of Twitter and $65 million in an investment round for Substack in 2021). This may or may not, as a result, create a unique need to arbitrate the dispute.