Twitter suspends accounts of several journalists covering Elon Musk and his company

08:50 AM Dec 17, 2022 | PTI |

New York: Twitter has abruptly suspended the accounts of several high-profile journalists who cover the social media platform and Elon Musk, who acquired the company in October.


The accounts of Ryan Mac of The New York Times, Donie O’Sullivan of CNN, Drew Harwell of The Washington Post, Matt Binder of Mashable, Micah Lee of The Intercept, Steve Herman of Voice of America, and independent journalists Aaron Rupar, Keith Olbermann as well as Tony Webster had all been suspended as of Thursday evening, CNN reported.

The journalists, however, found a backdoor way onto the platform through the website’s audio function, and hours later of suspension faced off with Musk in a Twitter Space audio discussion before an audience of more than 30,000 listeners.

“You doxx, you get suspended. End of story. That’s it,” Musk said to one of the suspended journalists, explaining his latest policy to the group before he left minutes after having joined the discussion.

Musk was referring to Twitter’s latest rule change about accounts that track private jets, including one owned by Musk himself, which was put in place on Wednesday.


The Twitter account for Mastodon, a platform billed as a Twitter alternative, was also suspended early on Thursday evening.

Twitter accounts operated by NBC News journalists were unable to tweet any links to Mastodon pages. Mastodon was, however, trending on Twitter.

According to NBC News, Musk said the suspensions stemmed from the platform’s new rules banning private jet trackers, responding to a tweet from Mike Solana, a vice president of the venture capital firm Founders Fund, who noted that the suspended accounts had posted links to jet trackers on other websites.

”Criticising me all day long is totally fine, but doxxing my real-time location and endangering my family is not,” he said in another tweet.

Doxxing refers to the practice of sharing someone’s home address or other personal information online.

Musk tweeted that the accounts banned on Thursday posted ”my exact real-time location, basically assassination coordinates, in (obvious) direct violation of Twitter terms of service”.

Musk later added that the suspensions would last seven days.

In early November, shortly after having taken control of Twitter, Musk tweeted that he would not ban the account that tracked his jet.

Rupar wrote on Substack that his account was permanently suspended but that he had no other information.

”I haven’t heard anything from Twitter at all,” he wrote, saying that he had tweeted a link on Wednesday to a Facebook page that tracked Musk’s jet.

Binder, a tech reporter at Mashable, said he was suspended after he tweeted a screenshot from another suspended reporter, CNN’s O’Sullivan, of a Los Angeles Police Department statement.

”I’ve been on it since 2008. I never got so much as a slap on the wrist, because I always follow the rules,” Binder said. ”It’s not hard to do when you know what the rules are.” Binder said his account notified him that he is permanently suspended.

”This is the very stuff that he’s criticised the previous Twitter of doing,” Binder said of Musk.

Binder found a loophole in Twitter’s suspension, joining an audio discussion on Twitter’s Spaces feature with other journalists on Thursday night.

”I’m breaking the law in ways that have never been broken before,” Binder joked.

Jack Sweeney, a 20-year-old Florida college student who created the Twitter account that tracked Musk’s jet, was also able to join the discussion, briefly joined by Musk.

The billionaire had earlier put up a poll with a variety of options, asking whether or when he should reinstate the journalists’ accounts, but later deleted the poll and started a fresh one with fewer options as a plurality of respondents voted to restore the accounts immediately.

O’Sullivan said on Thursday that all those journalists who were suspended with him were people who covered Musk.

“As we saw with the jet tracker last night, Musk seems to be just stamping out accounts that he doesn’t like,” O’Sullivan said on CNN.

A spokesperson for the network said the suspensions were “impulsive and unjustified” — but not surprising.

“Twitter’s increasing instability and volatility should be of incredible concern for everyone who uses Twitter,” CNN said in a statement, adding that the network had asked Twitter for an ”explanation” and that it would reevaluate its relationship with the platform based on that response.

Ryan Mac, a New York Times tech reporter, wrote on a new Twitter account that he was given “no warning” before his account was suspended and that he had received no communication from the company about the reason his account was “permanently suspended”.

A spokesperson for The New York Times, who called the suspensions questionable and unfortunate, said no explanation was provided to Mac or the newspaper about the ban.

Meanwhile, the European Union has threatened Musk with sanctions after several journalists covering the company had their accounts abruptly suspended.

EU commissioner Vera Jourova warned that the EU’s Digital Services Act requires the respect of media freedom.

”Elon Musk should be aware of that. There are red lines. And sanctions, soon,” she tweeted.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, if individual bans were confirmed as retaliation for journalists’ work, it would be a “serious violation of journalists’ right to report the news without fear of reprisal”.

Several other organisations condemned Twitter’s decision, with the head of the American Civil Liberties Union saying: “It’s impossible to square Twitter’s free speech aspirations with the purging of critical journalists’ accounts.”

The president of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) said in a statement it was “concerned” about the suspensions, and that the move “affects all journalists.” Twitter, which recently dissolved the majority of its press department, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

But Twitter’s head of trust and safety told the Verge: “Without commenting on any specific accounts, I can confirm that we will suspend any accounts that violate our privacy policies and put other users at risk.”


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