Enlarge / Do not take photos of tweets on this phone. Instead, remember that tweets are more valuable if you use them as a URL.
Twitter seems to be reminding people that interesting tweets are something you need to click, load, and view while logged into the company’s ad-funded service, and not just in a screenshot. That’s why some users see a “Share Tweet?” popup when the Twitter app notices that they are taking a screenshot.
Social media analyst Matt Navarra noted the two types of nudge prompts in a tweet: “Copy Link” and “Share Tweet”. TechCrunch noted that some of its employees received the prompt and pointed to another tweet in which Twitter provided both the “Copy Link” and “Share Tweet” buttons.
As I was writing this, I checked my own Twitter app, took a screenshot of a tweet and received the “Copy Link” version. There is no “decline” option, but the popup will disappear on its own after about seven seconds.
Twitter wants to remind you that this image you created also exists as a reference on its servers.
Other Ars employees have seen the “Share Tweet” and double-stacked versions of this prompt.
Twitter makes money when people visit the site in a browser or load it into the official Twitter apps and then see sponsored tweets or pre-roll ads on native videos (users can also sign up for a Twitter Blue subscription). Screenshots, whether shared directly or on competing social platforms, do not generate revenue. Getting involved with Twitter itself could encourage people to sign up and do more of that.
Twitter reported 237.8 million “average monetization daily active use” in the second quarter of 2022, a 16.6 percent increase compared to the same quarter in 2021. The company claims this increase was driven by “ongoing product improvements.” and “global conversations about current events”. It makes sense why Twitter, the corporate entity, prefers tweet links to screenshots, enough to do an A/B/C test that can make users feel like the Twitter app is watching them closely. and scold them.
But to Twitter, the cultural entity, screenshots are immensely valuable, probably more than just links. If you’ve been into internet culture for years, you’ve seen why.
Former President Donald Trump used Twitter as a primary means of making news, announcing policies, and occasionally opening up to legislative and judicial action. Following the January 6 uprising, Trump (or his social team) deleted three tweets that led to him being suspended from Twitter in the middle of the night. After Trump’s Twitter account was banned “because of the risk of further incitement to violence”, all of Trump’s tweets were essentially deleted. There are archives, but links to everything the Twitter-minded president had to say on the platform, and embedded versions of those tweets, no longer work.
Screenshots also provide context that a link cannot capture. Tweets with remarkable like, retweet, quote tweet or reply activity and numbers can be captured in the moment with a screenshot, as seen in tweets that have been “rationed” or in seemingly banal statements that yield incredible numbers. A reply to a tweet can provide important context, something you are not sure will appear if you link the reply tweet or if another tweet in the thread is modified or deleted.
And while Twitter’s edit button currently shows the revision history of an edited tweet, it can be important to see an original tweet, with the replies at the time, to capture impact and context.
All of this points to the bigger problem: Twitter may not be around forever. And internet services with user content that can be embedded on websites have a history of disappearing and exporting their brokenness to the pages they touched.
This phenomenon is known as link rot. If you’ve seen a news story that uses since-deleted tweets as a crucial element of evidence or discussion, you’ve seen link rot. Before Twitter hosted its own images, many users relied on third-party services to host them. Twitpic was shut down, but was bought by Twitter and its archives were restored. Yfrog also didn’t make it and its parent company, ImageShack, used the embedded image space in tweets and other sites to insert unrelated ads. Another service, Vidme, eventually pushed “5 Star HD Porn” to sites that relied on its embedded media, including The Washington Post.
When Twitter asks users to rely on their servers instead of finding a home for an image file, the service suggests that the servers and business are more important than the context you might be trying to capture. For some tweets, that might be an easy trade-off, and it might just point to something users didn’t notice before. But Twitter should keep in mind that there are very good, even historical reasons to ignore buy-in and grab what you see.