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