Hours after Twitter banned users from promoting accounts on other major social media sites, including Facebook, Instagram and Truth Social, the controversial prohibition vanished from its policy page.
The new, restrictive policy came after many users, eyeing the exit doors, began posting links to their accounts on other platforms following Elon Musk's takeover as CEO of Twitter and its subsequent reinstatement of far-right accounts, suspension of journalists and mass layoffs.
"We recognize that many of our users are active on other social media platforms," Twitter support tweeted Sunday. "However, we will no longer allow free promotion of certain social media platforms on Twitter."
The platform and Musk were then subjected to resounding criticism for a move that seemed to defy the spirit of an internet built on free market-style cross-linking.
A few hours after the policy's announcement, Musk appeared to contradict it in a tweet that said, “Casually sharing occasional links is fine, but no more relentless advertising of competitors for free, which is absurd in the extreme.”
By evening, the platform's page with the new policy language had vanished under the "page not found" 404 heading, indicating deleted or moved content. There was no word on whether the policy had been formally rescinded. References to the prohibition on outside social media also disappeared from Twitter Support's feed Sunday night without explanation.
The policy was criticized as ironic for a CEO who vowed to be a "free speech absolutist." Some noted that Tesla, the electric vehicle company run by Musk, once encouraged fans to visit its Facebook page. (He famously deleted it in 2018).
Earlier Sunday, Musk also apologized for the abrupt policy change that followed weeks of tumult since his Oct. 27 takeover. Since then, Twitter has laid off or seen the exodus of thousands of employees, more than half its workforce, botched introduction of paid verification for users and suspended a half-dozen journalists. They were reinstated late Friday.
Musk on Sunday also revealed a new Twitter poll asking respondents whether he should step down at the platform, a prospect he previously said would happen in any case when the ship is ostensibly righted and a new chief is sought.
Late Sunday the yes vote has head of the no vote roughly 56% to 44%. Musk said he would abide by the will of those who weighed in.
As rolled out, the policy on outside social media was aimed at both the largest social media platforms and newer ones vying for pieces of Twitter's market share.
"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 Support said in a tweet that has since been deleted.
The policy also intended to ban third-party link aggregators, including linktr.ee and lnk.bio, it said, adding that it would also seek to remove users who try to circumvent the rules by spelling out “dot” and sharing screenshots of their handles on prohibited platforms, among other means to get around the restrictions.
The policy, which would have been the most significant change to Twitter under Musk, was among the most restrictive of any social media platforms’ policies on what users can post. Other social media companies have few, if any, rules about users’ posting links to their accounts on other platforms.
Musk suggested that part of the problem at Twitter is that the rules changed abruptly, without some kind of vote.
"Going forward, there will be a vote for major policy changes," Musk tweeted Sunday. "My apologies. Won’t happen again."
It wasn't clear whether Musk was referring to the results of Twitter polls, which he cited when he reinstated the account of former President Donald Trump and ended the suspensions of the journalists' accounts.
Twitter polls are informal, and the voters are self-selected. That is different from scientific public opinion research, which requires that participants be chosen at random and that the size of a sampled population is adequate and diverse for the purpose.
Twitter has never released an estimate of the number of inauthentic and malicious automated accounts (or “bots”) on the platform. Those accounts can vote in polls.
An abstract for a paper about polling in the social media era published by the British Medical Journal’s BMJ Innovations put it this way: “Twitter polls are a unique feature which allows for a rapid response to questions posed. Nonetheless Twitter does not constitute a validated survey technique.”
Twitter did not immediately respond to questions.
The CEO of Post, Noam Bardin, tried to draw users to the site after the announcement.
"We make it easy to add all your social media links to your profile since none of us only use one platform," Bardin tweeted, adding "Freedom = Choice."
The other companies subject to the new policy also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Twitter’s earlier rule change left out some major social media platforms, most notably TikTok. TikTok is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance and is ultimately controlled by the Communist Party of China, according to company insiders and critics. Musk has been increasingly called out for his cozy relationship with China ever since he took over Twitter.
Reddit, Twitch, Telegram, WhatsApp, WeChat, Weibo and the right-wing platforms Parler and Gab are also exempt from the new policy.
Twitter announced the change during Sunday's final of the World Cup, which Musk attended and tweeted from. He was pictured sitting near Jared Kushner, a son-in-law of former President Donald Trump, who founded Truth Social, which was part of the rule change.
The new rules add to what has been a particularly chaotic stretch for the company and its new owner, with Twitter having suspended and reinstated some journalists over the past few days after a sudden rule change prohibiting the reporting of real-time location information targeted accounts that revealed the existence of third parties that track the flights of private jets, such as Musk's.
The rule could come under governmental scrutiny, including from the Federal Trade Commission, which oversees potential anti-competitive company actions, and the European Union, which has rules about how tech companies compete with one another. A spokeswoman said the FTC had no comment on Twitter’s new policy.
As it was presented, the outside social media ban stated that first-time violators might be required to delete tweets or might have their accounts locked and that "any subsequent offenses will result in permanent suspension." Users who violated the policy by linking or mentioning other social media accounts in their bios or account names would have their accounts suspended and would be required to remove the mentions to be reinstated, according to the policy language, now missing.
The rule would have allowed users to cross-post content from other sites, as well as links or usernames to social media sites that are not subject to the ban, Twitter had said. Users who believed their accounts had mistakenly been suspended or locked could appeal, it added.
Others in the tech industry also criticized the move. Aaron Levie, the CEO of the cloud storage company Box, tweeted, “This is just sad.” Benedict Evans, a London-based tech analyst, tweeted that the move was “absolutely pathetic.”
The director of Stanford University’s Internet Observatory, Alex Stamos, a former chief security officer for Facebook, tweeted that the new policy is "the clearest declaration of weakness I’ve ever seen from a major US tech platform, and a transparent declaration of anticompetitive intent."
Paul Graham, a well-followed venture capitalist, said the rule change had pushed him to leave Twitter. “This is the last straw,” he tweeted, noting that a link to his account on Mastodon was on his website. “I give up.”
Graham's account was suspended hours later.
Taylor Lorenz, a Washington Post tech and online culture columnist who was suspended from Twitter on Saturday night after she tweeted at Musk seeking comment for a story and has since been reinstated, said she "cannot imagine a worse policy if you want content creators to come on your site."
"People don’t want to be locked in a jail and that is what Musk is doing," she told NBC News. "He’s closing the doors and trying to keep people in."
Lorenz previously had a tweet pinned to her profile promoting her accounts on other sites, including some that were then banned. But as soon as she was reinstated, which was right around the time the company announced the new policy, she took the tweet down, she said.
On Sunday, many users were passing around previous tweets from Musk that could be seen as criticizing the policy banning those outside social media platforms.
Most notably, one of his tweets from June read: “The acid test for any two competing socioeconomic systems is which side needs to build a wall to keep people from escaping? That’s the bad one!”