Last weekend, Twitter announced that it would “no longer allow free promotion of certain social media platforms.” After pushback, it ditched the ban and deleted all evidence of it. Elon Musk acknowledged the blunder with a simple tweet that read, “Going forward, there will be a vote for major policy changes. My apologies. Won’t happen again.” And then everyone moved on.
Everyone except for me, because I absolutely cannot stop thinking about it.
The ban was so desperately short-sighted, so wildly out of touch with the realities of social media, that I still can’t believe how bad of a call it was. So let’s break it down, shall we?
First things first: What did the ban policy say?
The first line of the policy is deceptively rational: “We will remove accounts created solely for the purpose of promoting other social platforms.” This makes sense, since these types of accounts could essentially be flagged as spam anyway. But then things got weird, because the policy also stated that Twitter would not allow “content that contains links or usernames for the following platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Mastodon, Truth Social, Tribel, Nostr and Post.”
It described a violation of the ban as “linking out (i.e. using URLs) […] or providing your handle without a URL [to] Facebook, Instagram, Mastodon, Truth Social, Tribel, Post and Nostr” and 3rd-party aggregators like linktr.ee and Ink.bio “at both the Tweet level and the account level.” It gave the following examples:
“follow me @username on Instagram”
“check out my profile on Facebook – facebook.com/username“
OK got it, so why is this policy so idiotic (and what’s the real reason for the ban)?
Musk is scared of losing Twitter users to competitors, and this ban was a desperate bid to stem the bleed. The list of prohibited platforms did not include video-based platforms like YouTube and TikTok for a reason: Musk was mostly concerned with cutting off users from competing text and photo platforms.
The thing is, policies like this fail because they don’t reflect how social media works as a conduit for people to share things and connect with others.
On top of that, the policy betrays a deep misunderstanding of the problems plaguing Twitter at this moment. Many people definitely want to leave or already have left, whether because of Musk’s wacky leadership or the rise in hate speech or for another reason. But there have been dozens of people on my timeline saying things like “if this website dies, see you on [other social media site]” and sharing their Mastodon usernames, for example. But they always say “if this platform dies” or “just in case things get worse here on Twitter.”
So, sure, some people definitely want to leave. But it would seem that others don’t want to leave as much as they want the site to be better. And instead of addressing the root issues of why people think the site may be dying, Musk and his staff scrambled to weaken the healthy competition that challenges them to actually work hard to make Twitter a place where people willingly want to stay.
Why does it matter so much that this ban would directly affect creators?
Is much of Twitter a churning cesspool of negativity and misinformation? Yeah. It’s also a place for artists, musicians, photographers, comedians, writers, YouTubers, and other creators to share work that keeps the website from burning itself up. Some of them have built businesses and careers on the backs of their Twitter followings, but it’s hard to make money with the limited monetization opportunities the platform has available. That means these creators must diversify across other platforms and projects to survive. And how do they promote those platforms and projects? By linking out to them or creating linktr.ee and Ink.bio pages to online shops or affiliate links. To cut creators off from their ability to promote themselves on Twitter is to cut them off from their livelihoods.
On Sunday, Musk tweeted this about the ban: “No more relentless free advertising of competitors. No traditional publisher allows this and neither will Twitter.” So, first of all, I have no idea what traditional publisher subsists on almost 100 percent user-generated content like Twitter does, so the comparison is ridiculous. But more importantly, Musk is making it extra clear that he is missing the point. People aren’t linking to Facebook to give Meta a little boost; they’re linking to Facebook to support their own personal or business pages on the platform.
Creators cannot subsist on Twitter popularity alone, and they will happily leave a platform that doesn’t pay them for one that does. And that’s the most idiotic element of the ban: Instead of making Twitter better, it alienates everyone that does.