Matt Taibbi has announced that he’s leaving Twitter amid the company’s ongoing spat with newsletter platform Substack.
If Taibbi’s name doesn’t immediately ring a bell, perhaps the phrase “Twitter Files” might. Using access granted by Twitter CEO and self-avowed free speech enthusiast Elon Musk, Taibbi and other journalists have shared internal Twitter information that was intended to reveal how corrupt the company’s previous leadership was. (What they actually revealed was Jack Dorsey’s personal email address and some sloppy journalism. Oops.)
Twitter seems to be in a drag-out fight with Substack, blocking users from liking, replying to, or retweeting many tweets with Substack URLs and, in what appears to be an escalation, limiting how you can interact with tweets from Substack’s Twitter account itself. Taibbi now says he’s been told (by whom he did not say) that Twitter’s backlash against Substack posts is because the newsletter platform recently announced a Twitter-like feature called Notes.
“Since sharing links to my articles is a primary reason I come to this platform, I was alarmed and asked what was going on,” he tweeted. He said that he was given the option of “posting articles on Twitter instead.” (Again, no word on who gave that ultimatum.) Taibbi says he plans to stay with Substack and start using Notes, something he says “apparently will come with a price as far as any future Twitter Files reports are concerned.”
If you’ll give me a moment to be candid, this is all just incredibly embarrassing for Musk, if he’s capable of feeling shame. (For the record, I’d guess yes.) The man made free speech his brand, saying that he wants to make Twitter a “trusted digital town square, where a wide range of views are tolerated, provided people don’t break the law or spam.” And then he cracks down on another company because it added a feature that’s a bit like Twitter?
To be clear, this is somewhat consistent behavior from Musk. The free speech promises were always puffery, and that’s been clear ever since that hot minute in December when Twitter went nuclear on links to other social media sites like Mastodon, Instagram, and Facebook. But at least he bothered attempting to make an excuse for that one — he claimed that platforms allowing the ElonJet account that tracked the location of his private jet were handing out “assassination coordinates” and putting his child’s life in danger.
Was that overdramatic? Sure, maybe — but if you believed that he actually believed it, you could see where he was coming from. But how do you square the logic of clamping down on a competitor with Musk’s relentless promises to support free speech? If you’re Taibbi, or a number of other Substack writers, maybe you don’t. Maybe you just decide to move on and let him have his toy.
PS: Musk has apparently unfollowed Taibbi on Twitter as a result of all this.