Twitter knows you took a screenshot, asks you to share instead

Enlarge / Please do not take photos of tweets on this phone. Instead, consider tweets more valuable when you engage with them as a URL.

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Twitter is apparently working to remind people that interesting tweets are something you should click, load, and view while logged into the company’s ad-supported service, not just see in a screenshot. This is why some users see a “Share Tweet?” pop-up whenever the Twitter app notices them 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 staff received the prompt and pointed out another tweet in which Twitter provided both “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’s no “ignore” option, but the popup hides after about seven seconds.

Twitter would like to remind you that this image you have captured also exists as a reference on its servers.

Twitter would like to remind you that this image you have captured also exists as a reference on its servers.

Other Ars staff have seen the “Share Tweet” versions and double versions of this prompt.

Twitter makes money when people visit the site in a browser or load it into official Twitter apps and then see sponsored tweets or pre-roll ads on native videos (users can also sign up for a Blue Twitter subscription). Screenshots, whether shared directly or on competing social platforms, do not generate revenue. Engaging with Twitter itself could encourage people to sign up and do more.

Twitter reported 237.8 million”average monetizable daily active use” in Q2 2022, up 16.6% from the same quarter in 2021. The company says the increase is due to “continued product improvements” and “global conversation around current events.” It makes sense that Twitter, the company, prefers tweet links to screenshots, enough to A/B/C test a prompt that can make users feel like the Twitter app is watching them closely and growls.

But for Twitter, the cultural entity, screenshots are extremely valuable, probably more so than links alone. If you’ve been engaging with internet culture for years, you know why.

Former President Donald Trump has used Twitter as his primary vehicle for breaking news, announcing policies, and occasionally opening himself up to legislative and legal action. After the January 6 insurgency, Trump (or his social team) deleted three tweets that led to his suspension from Twitter in the middle of the night. After Trump’s Twitter account has been banned “Due to the risk of further incitement to violence,” all of Trump’s tweets were essentially deleted. The archives existbut 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 notable activity and numbers like, retweet, quote-tweet or reply can be captured in the moment with a screenshot, as seen in tweets that have been “proportionate” or in seemingly banal statements that attract incredible numbers. A reply to a tweet can provide important context, something you can’t be sure will show up if you link the reply tweet or if another tweet in the thread is edited or deleted.

And while Twitter’s edit button currently displays the revision history of an edited tweet, it may be important to see an original tweet, with its replies at the time, to understand its impact and context.

This all points to a larger problem: Twitter may not exist forever. And Internet services whose user content can be embedded on websites have a habit of disappearing and exporting their brokenness on the pages that have touched them.

This phenomenon is known as link rot. If you’ve seen a news story that uses since-deleted tweets as crucial evidence or discussion, you’ve seen the link rot. Before Twitter hosted its own images, many users relied on third-party services to host them. Twitter closed but was acquired by Twitter and had its archives restored. Yfrog was also unsuccessful, and its parent company, ImageShack, used the image space embedded in tweets and other sites to insert unrelated advertisements. Another service, Vidme, possibly palmed off “5 Star HD Porn” on sites that relied on its integrated media, including the Washington Post.

When Twitter asks users to rely on their servers instead of finding a location for an image file, the service suggests that its servers and activity are more important than the context you may be trying to capture. For some tweets, this can be an easy compromise, and it might just indicate something users haven’t noticed before. But Twitter should keep in mind that there are very good, even historical, reasons to ignore membership and grab what you see.

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