Reports: The sudden shutdowns of Twitter's third-party clients were premeditated

Reports: The sudden shutdowns of Twitter’s third-party clients were premeditated

Zoom in / Twitter blocks access to its API for many third-party clients while still providing no explanation.

Ryan J Lynn/Getty Images

Twitter has yet to explain why third-party clients like Twitterific and Tweetbot stopped working late last week. But a new report and testing by an app developer suggests that the outages and lack of connectivity are intentional.

Internal Twitter Slack conversation messages show information (subscription required) Senior Software Engineer writing in the Command Center channel that “the suspension of third-party applications is intentional.” Another employee, asking about talking points to use when addressing outages with product partners, was told by the director of product marketing that Twitter had “started working on communications,” but there was no delivery date, The Information reports.

It appears some Tweetbot users briefly regained access to the account early Sunday, without the ability to post, and lost access again later. This resulted in Tweetbot co-founder Paul Haddad exchanging the application’s API keys, but all of his keys were later revoked. “This finding proves that this was intentional and that we and others were specifically targeted,” Haddad wrote in Mastodon Sunday night, as noted by The Verge.

“I wouldn’t have swapped the switches in the first place if there was even an iota of connections,” Haddad wrote. “I think if nothing else, this would advance the case. Well, to smaller but greener pastures.”

Neither Twitter nor owner Elon Musk mentioned the third-party clients failing to connect. The Twitter status page said early Monday that all systems were up and running, and it listed no previous incidents going back to January 2. Some versions of third-party clients, such as Twitterific for Mac.

Twitter has long held third-party clients, allowing users and small teams to customize how they view, track, and interact with tweets, at arm’s length. Prior to Musk’s ownership, Twitter required developers not to configure it, restricted its API, and pulled push notifications and automatic updates for clients.

The Musk estate, which began with widespread layoffs and constantly saw the company rapidly change its policy and make its intentions difficult to understand, has led some industry observers and technology experts to wonder if the third-party API shutdown was simply an infrastructure failure. The company couldn’t fix it quickly.

But the most likely explanation involves advertising revenue. Explaining the deep cuts he’s made across the company, Musk said in mid-December that Twitter was on track to generate “negative cash flow of $3 billion.” The liquidity crunch appears to be largely due to the $1.5 billion in debt servicing needed to pay off Musk’s debts, as well as the sharp drop in advertising revenue since his takeover. Twitter has been sued multiple times by landlords for past rent.

Twitter recently changed its iOS app to a tab by default showing an algorithm-based “For You” feed, requiring users to tap regularly to view a reverse-chronological “Follow” feed. Third-party clients have traditionally offered more control over how users sort their feeds – and most importantly, they don’t display “Promoted” Twitter ads. The company recently introduced heavily stimulating advertising packages after a severe contraction in its ad sales.

We were unable to contact Twitter for comment, as its PR and communications departments are reportedly no longer in existence. Musk’s most recent tweet, just after midnight on January 16th ET, is a Swipe lightly on media as quietly run by the state.


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