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Reports: Sudden Blocks of Third-Party Twitter Clients Were Intentional

A person in a life-size bird costume reads a book in a chair while a distressed-looking human is locked in a human-sized birdcage.
Enlarge / Twitter blocks many third-party clients from accessing its API while continuing to provide no explanation.

Ryan J. Lane/Getty Images

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

Internal Twitter Slack chat messages viewed by information (subscription required) show a senior software engineer writing in a “command center” channel that “third-party app suspensions are intentional”. Another employee, asking about talking points to use when resolving outages with product partners, was told by a product marketing executive that Twitter had “started working on communications,” but that there was no delivery date, according to The Information’s report.

Some Tweetbot users appeared to briefly regain access to the account early on Sunday, with no ability to post, only to lose access again later. This resulted from Tweetbot co-creator Paul Haddad swapping the app’s API keys, but all of his keys were later revoked. This result “proves that it was intentional and that we and others were specifically targeted”, Haddad wrote on Mastodon on Sunday nightas noticed by The Verge.

“I wouldn’t have exchanged the keys in the first place if there had been even an ounce of communication,” Haddad wrote. “I thought at least that would push the issue. Well, to smaller but greener pastures.”

Neither Twitter nor owner Elon Musk mentioned the failure of third-party clients to connect. The Twitter status page early Monday said all systems were operational, with no past incidents listed since January 2. third-party clients, like Twitterific for Mac.

Twitter has long kept third-party clients, which allow users and small teams to customize how they view, follow and interact with tweets, remotely. Prior to Musk’s ownership, Twitter asked developers not to create them, restricts its APIand took away push notifications and auto-refresh for customers.

Musk’s property, which started with large-scale layoffs and has always seen the company rapidly changing politics and making his intention difficult to decipherled some industry watchers and tech pundits to wonder if the third-party API shutdown was simply an infrastructure failure that the company couldn’t fix quickly.

But a more likely explanation has to do with ad revenue. To explain his deep cuts to the business, Musk said in mid-December that Twitter was on track for a “negative cash flow of $3 billion. The cash crunch appears largely due to the $1.5 billion debt service needed for Musk’s buyout debt, as well as the drastic decline in advertising revenue since his takeover. Twitter has been repeatedly sued by landlords for unused rent.

Twitter recently changed its iOS app to default to one tab showing an algorithm-based “For You” feed, requiring users to repeatedly tap to see a more reverse-chronological “Next” feed. Third-party clients have traditionally offered much more control over how users can sort their feeds, and most notably, they don’t display advertising on Twitter’s “promoted” tweets. The company recently offered strong incentive advertising packages following drastic declines in its advertising sales.

We were unable to contact Twitter for comment because its public relations and communications departments would no longer exist. Musk’s last tweet, just after midnight ET on January 16, is a lightly coded sweep on media as quietly run by the state.

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