Reports: Twitter’s sudden bans from third-party clients were intentional

Person in full-sized bird costume reads a book in a chair while a sad-looking human is locked in a human-sized birdcage.
Enlarge / Twitter blocks many third-party customers from accessing its API while offering no explanation.

Ryan J Lane/Getty Images

Twitter has not yet explained why third-party clients such as Twitterific and Tweetbot stopped working last week. But a new report and testing by an app developer suggest the glitches and lack of communication are intentional.

Internal Twitter Slack chat messages viewed by The Information (subscription required) show a senior software engineer writing in a “command center” channel that “third party app suspensions are intentional”. Another employee, who asked about talking points to use when addressing the outages with product partners, was told by a product marketing manager that Twitter was “starting working on communications,” but there was no delivery date, according to The Information report.

Some Tweetbot users appeared to briefly regain access to their accounts early Sunday, without the ability to post, only to lose access again later. That was because Tweetbot co-creator Paul Haddad swapped the app’s API keys, but all of his keys were later revoked. That result “proves that this was intentional and that we and others were specifically targeted,” Haddad wrote Sunday night on Mastodon, as noted 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 if nothing else, it would push the issue. Oh well, on to smaller but greener pastures.”

Neither Twitter nor owner Elon Musk has reported the failure of third-party customers to connect. Twitter’s status page said early Monday that all systems were up and running, with no previous incidents dating back to Jan. 2. some versions of third-party clients, such as Twitterific for Mac.

Twitter has long had third-party clients, which let users and small teams customize how they view, follow, and interact with tweets, right at their fingertips. Prior to Musk’s ownership, Twitter asked developers not to create them, restricted the API, and removed push notifications and auto-refresh for the customers.

Musk’s ownership, which began with massive layoffs and has consistently seen the company change policies quickly and make its intent difficult to decipher, led some industry watchers and tech experts to question whether the third-party shutdown of the API was just an infrastructure flaw that the company couldn’t fix quickly.

But a more likely explanation involves ad revenue. To explain his deep cuts across the company, Musk said in mid-December that Twitter was heading for “negative cash flow of $3 billion.” The cash crunch appears to be largely due to the $1.5 billion in debt required for Musk’s takeover debt, as well as drastically declining ad revenue since his takeover. Twitter has been sued several times by landlords for overdue rent.

Twitter recently changed its iOS app to a default tab with an algorithm-based “For You” feed, requiring users to tap frequently to view a more reverse-chronological “Following” feed. Third-party clients have traditionally offered much more control over how users can sort their feeds — and, most notably, they don’t show Twitter’s “sponsored” tweet ads. The company recently offered heavily incentivized ad packages after drastic downturns in ad sales.

We were unable to reach out to Twitter for comment, as its public relations and communications departments reportedly no longer exist. Musk’s last tweet, just after midnight ET on Jan. 16, is a lightly coded swipe at media as being quietly run by the state.

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