Twitter users reported problems sending links in direct messages last night, prompting Twitter to issue a notice in its Help Center: “We’re restructuring back-end elements of our direct message system. As a result, users may be unable to send some URLs in direct messages. We apologize for the inconvenience.”
But is this a temporary inconvenience, or a sign that Twitter is fighting a spam problem in its direct messages? Last night, ReadWrite hypothesized that this service interruption could be an attempt on Twitter’s part to thwart spammers, who often send malicious links using the DM service.
As of today, when I attempted to send a URL link through direct message, I received an error notice. The same thing happened when I used Bitly to shorten the link.
Links go through without a problem for www.twitter.com, www.instagram.com, www.google.com, and www.facebook.com, so it appears Twitter has unblocked links from specific websites. This is consistent with the idea that the link ban is a bandaid fix to combat a problem with malicious links, since the service is still allowing links to websites it knows to be safe (or, in the case of its own site, has a vested interest in spreading, although I honestly have no idea why anyone would send another Twitter user a link to the Twitter URL).
While I got a simple error message, other users are reporting messages that indicate their link is malware:
Apparently sending a DM that contains a URL, means you are sending malware o_O http://t.co/ELE4QE50gy
— Heather (@I_enigma) October 18, 2013
Twitter is rolling out changes to direct messages that will allow users to opt-in to receive DMs from any user, a change from its previous policy of only allowing DMs from users you follow. The change may be part of an effort to make the platform more appealing to marketers and advertising partners, since users who opt-in to receive messages from anyone could end up getting promotional materials in their inbox as part of campaigns.
Whether this is just a temporary service thing, like Twitter says, or the beginning of a more permanent overhaul for direct messages, it is not a victimless crime. The NCIS fan community took the change to heart:
— NCIS Fanatics (@NCISfanatics) October 17, 2013