Last week, Substack announced a new feature called “Notes” which they described as “short-form content” that allows writers to “recommend almost anything — including posts, quotes, comments, images, and links” in order to “foster conversations that inspire, enlighten, and entertain, while giving writers a powerful growth channel as these interactions find new audiences.”
So tweets, basically.
Twitter CEO Elon Musk obviously didn’t take too kindly to Substack’s announcement. But rather than promote his company’s own functionality — such as the Twitter Notes feature for long-form content which, despite being announced last year, still remains available only to a subset of users — Musk opted for the following responses:
- Marking Substack links as unsafe.
- Disabling likes, replies, and retweets on tweets containing Substack links.
- Modifying Twitter’s search so that searches for “Substack” returned tweets containing “newsletter” instead.
And this from a guy who touted himself as a “free speech absolutist.”
To be fair, Twitter no longer seems to be taking those first two actions, though I still get altered — some might even say false or deceptive — results when searching for “Substack.” But the fact that such actions were taken in the first place is equal parts mind-boggling and unsurprising. And while Musk (and his fanboys) may see such actions as super-advanced business strategies that are beyond the ken of mere commoners like you and me, they actually come off as petty, childish, and insecure.
Then again, what do you expect from the guy who had his company’s own sign defaced (thus changing “Twitter” to “Titter”) in order to get back at his landlord, changed Twitter’s logo to the Doge meme, and — as evidenced by the screenshot above — changed his Twitter account name to effectively be “Hairy Balls”? You can practically hear the junior high giggling behind such antics.
It’s just further proof that Musk, despite being one of the world’s richest individuals with a net worth of nearly $190 billion, is not a serious person. Rather, he’s a chaos agent who finds it easier (and probably more fun) to undermine and destroy things instead of build or improve them — especially when his ego gets in the way.
Musk’s latest moves have alienated at least one prominent ally, though. Matt Taibbi, who helped disseminate the Twitter Files — which supposedly proved that Twitter had a liberal bias and targeted Republican officials — announced that he was leaving Twitter after his own Substack posts were throttled. Which — surprise! — led to Musk spreading misinformation about Substack and Taibbi and even shadowbanning Taibbi.
Yes, it’s easy to pile on Musk these days, but only because there’s just so much. Even before he walked into Twitter HQ carrying a sink, it ought to have been obvious to everyone paying attention that he had no serious plan for Twitter beyond enjoying some lulz and assuaging his own ego. Which is a shame because Twitter, for all its many flaws, could be something special. Yes, it’s often been a dumpster fire, but it also feels like a space that realized the internet’s democratizing nature. In its best moments, it served as a more level playing field where “regular” folks freely interacted with celebrities, elites, and the powerful, and even held them accountable.
Musk, however, seems fully intent on 1) driving Twitter into the ground and 2) indulging its darkest and worst aspects in the process. And to add insult to injury, he’s doing it in the stupidest and most childish ways possible.