X (Twitter) blocked links to a Democratic political tool for a week

Formerly known as Twitter, the social platform X temporarily blocked links to EveryAction's NGP VAN, possibly the most popular political organizing software for Democratic and progressive campaigns.

For a week, links to volunteer event signups, donation portals and other resources for left-leaning political causes were unable to be shared on the platform, limiting their reach. When trying to post a link, users would be met with an error message, stating that the link "has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially harmful."

"On Wednesday, August 16, we became aware of an issue preventing links from our secure.ngpvan.com domain from being shared on X (formerly known as Twitter)," a representative for NGP VAN said in a statement to TechCrunch. "In the past, we've had direct contacts at Twitter that helped us solve problems quickly, however, those contacts no longer work for the organization."

TechCrunch was unable to reach X for comment. On Wednesday night, NGP VAN turned to its followers for help, asking them to report the error as well, since the company's own outreach was ineffective. By Thursday morning, the issue was resolved.

Under Elon Musk's ownership, X has had multiple spats with competing social platforms, and X responded by limiting its users' ability to engage with content from those platforms.

When Musk first bought the company in October, the open source, federated platform Mastodon emerged as an early alternative for fleeing users. By December, Musk's company suspended Mastodon's account and flagged links to some Mastodon servers as "potentially harmful," surfacing the same error message that users saw last week when posting NGP VAN links.

Then, when Substack launched its Twitter-like Notes feature in April, Musk's company responded by suppressing Substack links two days later. Users could post Substack links, but others would be unable to like, retweet or reply to those posts.

These issues have since been rectified, but the timing struck Mastodon and Substack executives as suspicious -- representatives from both companies spoke out against Twitter at the time.

"Not a good sign if you need to build a wall to keep people in," Mastodon wrote on its now unbanned account.

It's not clear why X blocked NGP VAN links, or if the block was an error. But as election season draws near in the U.S., the inability for activists and organizers to link to sites hosted on political organizing software could set a bad precedent. The tech behind U.S. political campaigns tends to be highly partisan, as some major companies only license their software to party-aligned causes. For example, while more liberal causes will use ActBlue to fundraise, conservative groups use a very similar platform called WinRed instead.

Especially since the coronavirus pandemic, digital organizing has become campaign workers' bread and butter. NGP VAN became even more central to this when its parent company EveryAction acquired Mobilize, a popular platform for organizing virtual campaign events.

"NGP VAN is a significant resource for organizers to reach and maintain broader networks of potential voters and volunteers," Shayna O'Reilly, a former campaign worker and current HR lead at a political research firm, told TechCrunch. "Sharing RSVP links to Mobilize events online, for example, presents opportunities for people to engage with campaigns and advocacy organizations in a more comfortable, accessible way."

Though the issue is now resolved, an NGP VAN representative told TechCrunch that X has not explained why the links were blocked in the first place.