January 30, 2023

Bobbys Brane

Bobbys Brane – Business & Tech Blog

Elon Musk starts banning critical journalists from Twitter

3 min read

Twitter has suspended the accounts of several prominent reporters who cover Elon Musk, including Ryan Mac of The New York Times, CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, The Washington Post’s Drew Harwell, The Intercept’s Micha Lee, Mashable’s Matt Binder, Aaron Rupar, and Tony Webster.

The reporters who have been banned all seem to have recently tweeted about Musk’s attempts to crack down on the sharing of the whereabouts of his private jet. In an email to The Verge, Twitter’s head of trust and safety, Ella Irwin, pointed to a policy update the company made yesterday prohibiting the sharing of “live location information, including information shared on Twitter directly or links to 3rd-party URL(s) of travel routes.”

“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,” Irwin said in the email. “We don’t make exceptions to this policy for journalists or any other accounts.”

“We don’t make exceptions to this policy for journalists or any other accounts.”

Musk has long had issue with the location of his private jet being shared in real time. He at one point went so far as to offer the manager of the @ElonJet account dedicated to tracking it thousands of dollars to go offline. On Wednesday, he implied in a tweet that the account had been used by a “crazy stalker” to find and climb on the hood of a car carrying one of his children. He then tweeted a video of the alleged stalker and his license plate with the caption: “Anyone recognize this person or car?”

That same day, Twitter suspended the @ElonJet account, the account belonging to its owner Jack Sweeney, and other accounts he managed that were tracking the locations of private jets using publically accessible data. Today, the enforcement was ratcheted up to include journalists tweeting about the situation.

It also appears that Twitter is not letting people post links to some instances of the competing decentralized social network Mastodon. Specifically, our tests showed that you’ll get an error saying “we can’t complete this request because this link has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially harmful” when trying to tweet links to Mastodon.social, Mastodon.lol, Mastodon.xyz, Mastodon.au, Mastodon.ie, Mastodon.scot, Mastodonapp.uk, Mastodon.world, and others. Earlier today, Mastodon’s Twitter account was suspended after it tweeted a link to the ElonJet Mastodon account.

“I have not received any communications from Twitter whatsoever, other than a notice at the top of my feed that I am permanently banned and in read-only mode,” said Rupar, one of the reporters who was suspended, in an email to The Verge. “I have no idea what could have prompted this.” In a story on his Substack, he said that yesterday he posted a tweet “noting that the ElonJet account that was suspended from Twitter was still active on Facebook, with a link to the Facebook page”

A statement from The New York Times spokesperson Charlie Stadtlander echoes the sentiment, saying that “neither The Times nor Ryan have received any explanation about why this occurred. We hope that all of the journalists’ accounts are reinstated and that Twitter provides a satisfying explanation for this action.” CNN posted a statement calling O’Sullivan’s suspension “concerning but not surprising,” and said that it will “reevaluate” its relationship with Twitter based on the explanation it gets for the ban.

The suspensions don’t appear to be entirely limited to journalists. Commentator Keith Olbermann has been suspended, as has the Twitter account for ADS-B Exchange, which describes itself as “the world’s largest source of open unblocked unfiltered flight data for enthusiasts.” The account recently quote-retweeted someone trying to track Musk’s jet, according to a WayBack Machine archive.

Musk has previously promised to make Twitter a hub for “free speech,” and held up the @ElonJet account as the type of thing he would permit on the platform, even though it could cause him harm. “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 tweeted on November 6th.

Update December 15th, 9:40PM ET: Added information that Twitter appears to be blocking links to certain Mastodon instances.

Update December 15th, 9:49PM ET: Added statement from CNN, and additional examples of blocked Mastodon links.