Musk bans journalists from Twitter and suspends competitors

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Musk bans journalists, breaks Twitter Spaces and suspends competitors — all in one day

Twitter suspended the accounts of more than a half-dozen prominent journalists who cover its owner, Elon Musk, a self-proclaimed free-speech absolutist, late on Thursday — including reporters from the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN.

Several of the reporters had recently posted about a now-banned Twitter account that tracked Musk’s private jet using publicly available data; many had also published articles critical of Musk. Twitter also suspended the account of a competing social media platform, Mastodon, after it tweeted about its own version of the Musk jet tracker.

Earlier this week, Twitter suspended more than two dozen accounts that tracked planes of prominent people, including government officials and billionaires, after Musk said that a “crazy stalker” followed a car carrying one of his children in Los Angeles. “Any account doxxing real-time location info of anyone will be suspended, as it is a physical safety violation,” he tweeted. He has not submitted any police report to the Los Angeles Police Department.

The suspensions Thursday capped off a chaotic week for Twitter, even by the standards of the Musk era. On Monday, Twitter dissolved its Trust and Safety Council of outside advisers shortly before a planned meeting; the group was formed to help Twitter address hate speech, self-harm, child exploitation and other thorny issues. On Tuesday, reports emerged that Twitter had not increased its reporting of child sexual abuse material on the platform, despite Musk’s claims to make the issue a top priority.

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The company has not commented on the journalists’ suspensions or the reason behind them; while several of the suspended accounts commented on the controversy over Musk’s jet, they did not all share location data. Ella Irwin, the current vice president of product for trust and safety at Twitter, has not yet responded to a request for comment on the suspensions.

“It’s alarming but unfortunately not so surprising to see Musk silencing journalists or creating new content regulation rules on a whim, based purely on what he finds inconvenient for him,” said Summer Lopez, chief program officer of free expression programs at PEN America. “He has from the start seemed to treat Twitter more like a personal fiefdom than a global public square.”

In the meantime, Musk has struggled to reshape Twitter’s business model. With hate speech and misinformation soaring on the platform, major advertisers have shied away from buying ads on the site. Musk’s attempt to launch a new verified user program, at $8 to $11 a head per month, cannot easily scale to make up the revenue gap. Musk has sold off billions of dollars of stock in his car company Tesla to help finance his purchase of Twitter and its ongoing operations — after saying he wouldn’t sell more of the stock earlier this year.

Musk has also taken aim at Twitter’s previous leaders for their decisions on content moderation, including a ban on former president Donald Trump, which Musk has since reversed. In recent weeks, he has supplied hand-picked journalists with internal documents, branded as the “Twitter Files,” outlining deliberations over content moderation before Musk took over the company. The billionaire has claimed that the mainstream media is ignoring the story, despite reporting in outlets like the New York Times.

Journalists suspended

Musk purchased Twitter in late October. About a week later, he acknowledged @ElonJet — the account created by a college student to track Musk’s personal plane — and said he would allow it to continue operating.

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“My commitment to free speech extends even to not banning the account following my plane, even though that is a direct personal safety risk,” he said then.

That changed on Wednesday, when Twitter suspended the account and banned the sharing of “live location information.”

Musk has since said he would pursue legal action against the owner of the account, Jack Sweeney. He has not filed any police report regarding the claims of stalking — which CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan noted in his last tweet before being suspended Thursday.

During the Twitter Spaces event, Mashable journalist Matt Binder said he was seemingly suspended for sharing O’Sullivan’s screenshot of a Los Angeles Police Department statement that Musk had not filed a police report on the alleged stalking incident.

“I mean, these are people who cover Elon and have been really critical of him,” he said. “That’s also me. So I started refreshing my Twitter feed” and then a notice popped up that his account was suspended as well.

Several of the other suspended journalists seem to have shared links to publicly available flight data on other platforms before Twitter disabled their accounts, but did not share information about Musk in particular or a specific location

Musk defended the suspensions late Thursday in a Twitter Spaces audio discussion that at one point included over 30,000 listeners, including several of the affected journalists.

“I’m sure everyone who has been doxxed would agree, you know, showing real-time information about somebody’s location is inappropriate,” Musk said. “And I think everyone on this call would not like that to be done to them. And there is not going to be any distinction in the future between journalists and regular people. Everyone’s going to be treated the same. They’re not special because you’re a journalist. You’re just a Twitter [user], you’re a citizen. So no special treatment.”

He also said that trying to evade a Twitter ban, or “trying to be clever about it” by posting links to location information even if it’s not posting location information, would not be acceptable.

“We are concerned about news reports that journalists who have covered recent developments involving Twitter and its owner, Elon Musk, have had their accounts on the platform suspended,” said the Committee to Protect Journalists in a statement. “If confirmed as retaliation for their work, this would be a serious violation of journalists’ right to report the news without fear of reprisal.”


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A top European official said Friday that Twitter’s decision to suspend the journalists’ accounts could run afoul of EU laws. “News about arbitrary suspension of journalists on Twitter is worrying,” tweeted Věra Jourová, vice president for values and transparency at the European Commission. “EU’s Digital Services Act requires respect of media freedom and fundamental rights. This is reinforced under our #MediaFreedomAct. @elonmusk should be aware of that. There are red lines. And sanctions, soon.”

Others predicted that Musk’s latest actions would be bad for business.

“Banning journalists who cover Twitter from having accounts on Twitter is surely the dumbest and most hypocritical move Elon Musk has made as owner and ‘Chief Twit,’” said Paul Barrett, deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights. “This is management as dark performance art: a series of desperate plays for attention and attempts to smite imaginary foes, which taken as a whole appear likely to drive Twitter into the ground.”

Thanks to Lillian Barkley for copy editing this article.

  • Benjamin Powers
    Benjamin Powers

    Technology Reporter

    Benjamin Powers is a technology reporter for Grid where he explores the interconnection of technology and privacy within major stories.