CNN

Elon Musk says Twitter will ban some links to other social media sites, sparking backlash

Dec 19, 2022, 5:00 AM
FILE - A sign at Twitter headquarters is shown in San Francisco, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022. Twitter ha...
FILE - A sign at Twitter headquarters is shown in San Francisco, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022. Twitter has suspended an account that used publicly available flight data to track Elon Musk's private jet, despite a pledge by the social media platform's new owner to keep it up because of his free speech principles. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
Originally Published: 18 DEC 22 15:16 ET
Updated: 18 DEC 22 20:11 ET

    (CNN) — Twitter said Sunday it would ban links to other social media services and suspend accounts that try to direct users to alternative platforms, in an apparent attempt to stem user defections to competitors.

But Twitter CEO Elon Musk later relented, loosening the policy and causing widespread confusion about what kind of linking was allowed and disallowed on the platform.

Under the new policy stated Sunday afternoon, links to content on Facebook and Instagram would be prohibited, as well as links to content on emerging Twitter alternatives, including Mastodon and Post. The rule also covers Truth Social, the Twitter clone backed by former President Donald Trump.

Twitter’s move signals a shift toward a more closed environment, one that still accepts incoming traffic from other sites but makes it more difficult for users to leave Twitter’s website for other destinations.

“Specifically, we will remove accounts created solely for the purpose of promoting other social platforms and content that contains links or usernames for the following platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Mastodon, Truth Social, Tribel, Nostr and Post,” Twitter’s support account tweeted.

Despite the bans, Twitter said the new policy will still “allow paid advertisement/promotion for any of the prohibited social media platforms.”

Hours after the policy’s rollout, Musk appeared to relent under criticism by other users and agreed to loosen the rules. In an exchange involving Box CEO Aaron Levie — who called the new policy “sad” — Musk agreed it was “reasonable” that some might want to link to their Instagram profiles to promote their own businesses.

“Policy will be adjusted to suspending accounts only when that account’s *primary* purpose is promotion of competitors, which essentially falls under the no spam rule,” Musk tweeted.

Then, amid the continuing backlash, Musk opened a Twitter poll asking whether he should “step down as head of Twitter.”

“I will abide by the results of this poll,” Musk wrote.

As of early Sunday evening, “Yes” was winning by a margin of 58% to 42%.

Inconsistent policy

Notably absent from the list of Twitter’s banned social media platforms was TikTok, one of the internet’s fastest-growing social media platforms whose links to China have sparked national security concerns among US policymakers. Musk’s own significant stake in China through his other company, Tesla, have raised doubts among critics as to whether the CEO would stand up to China if the country’s leaders sought to apply pressure on Twitter.

Twitter’s abrupt policy change Sunday afternoon prompted confusion from the platform’s former CEO, Jack Dorsey, who replied: “Why?” Dorsey followed up with: “doesn’t make sense.”

The policy change came after some Twitter users announced their intention to move to other platforms last week, in the wake of Twitter’s suspension of a number of journalists who cover Musk. Amid the backlash to the journalists suspensions, Twitter quietly began blocking links to Mastodon.

Sunday’s initial announcement appeared to formalize that ban to become official Twitter policy, a move that could further raise eyebrows among Twitter’s regulators.

As part of Twitter’s new policy, the company said users may not “link out” to social media platforms subject to the restrictions. Users were also prohibited from updating their Twitter profiles to include their account names on other platforms, a way to inform followers where they might be found elsewhere on social media.

For example, posting encouragement to “follow me @username on Instagram” or “username@mastodon.social” is restricted, Twitter said in a blog post.

Attempts to circumvent that policy will also be enforced against, the company said. For example, use of link-shortening services to obscure the true destination of a URL or attempts to spell out a URL in plain text will also run afoul of Twitter’s rules, the company said.

“If violations of this policy are included in your bio and/or account name, we will temporarily suspend your account and require changes to your profile to no longer be in violation,” the blog post said. “Subsequent violations may result in permanent suspension.”

First offenses or isolated incidents may result in temporary suspensions or requirements that users delete the violating content, Twitter said.

It’s unclear how or if the policy will be implemented after Musk’s apparent decision to loosen the restrictions Sunday evening.

Users may continue to use third-party software to simultaneously publish their social media content to multiple sites, including Twitter, the company said.

Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, as well as Truth Social’s parent Trump Media & Technology Group, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Related: Elon Musk speaks out on ‘Twitter Files’ release detailing platform’s inner workings

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