Twitter has suspended the accounts of several prominent reporters covering Elon Musk, including Ryan Mac of The New York Times, from CNN Donie O’Sullivan, The Washington Postfrom Drew Harwell, The interceptionfrom Micah Lee, from mashable Matt Binder, Aaron Rupar, and Tony Webster. Tonight Musk logged onto a Twitter Space to try and explain why, and conducted a poll asking when the journalists should be released – in both cases things didn’t go quite the way he wanted.
The reporters who were banned all seem to have recently tweeted about Musk’s attempts to crack down on sharing the whereabouts of his private jet. However, apparently accounts that can’t post can still join a Twitter Spaces live audio chat. In a Space with Harwell, Binder and the ElonJet account, Musk finally tried to explain himself.
“You dox, you’re getting suspended. End of story, that’s it.”
In that conversation, Musk accused the journalists of “ban evasion”. After the ElonJet account was banned from Twitter, the owner created accounts on Facebook and Mastodon. By posting links to those accounts, he argued, the journalists were trying to circumvent his ban.
The Washington Post’s Harwell asked Musk how Musk’s decision to ban accounts sharing the other ElonJet sites — as well as journalists reporting on the incident — differed from Twitter’s previous handling of a New York Post story about a laptop containing Hunter Biden’s personal information. In 2020, Twitter made a moderation decision to block links to it The New York Post story.
Details on that moderation decision was published on Twitter earlier this month – with the support of Musk. (In April, he tweeted that suspend The New York Post’s account because of the story “was obviously incredibly inappropriate.) Musk even teased the release of the information saying: Tweeting “this is going to be awesome” and popcorn emoji. During the course of the release, the email address of Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey was revealed.
Musk replied to Harwell by saying, “You dox, you’re getting suspended. End of story, that’s it.” Then he left the room.
In an email to The edge, Twitter’s head of trust and safety, Ella Irwin, pointed to a policy update the company yesterday banned the sharing of “live location information, including information shared directly to Twitter or links to third-party travel route URL(s).
“Without commenting on 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 make no exceptions to this policy for journalists or other accounts.”
“We make no exceptions to this policy for journalists or other accounts.”
In a tweet earlier in the evening, Musk said of the bans: “They posted my exact real-time location, in fact murder coordinates, in (clear) direct violation of Twitter’s terms of service” he said. The ElonJet account in the links he objected to automatically shares publicly available flight path information for Elon Musk’s private jet. (It does not mention the passenger list.)
Accounts such as ElonJet – and the similarly suspended CelebJet and RUOligarchJets – are often used by climate activists to highlight the blatant effect of private jets on the environment. Musk, Kylie Jenner, Kim Kardashian, and Taylor Swift have all come under fire this year for the use of jets when alternative means of transport can be used with less harmful impact on the environment.
Musk has long had problems sharing the location of his private jet in real time. At some point he went so far to offer thousands of dollars to the admin of the @ElonJet account to take it offline. Wednesday he implied in a tweet that the account had been used by a “mad stalker” to find a car with one of his children and climb on the hood. (It’s unclear how the jet’s location led to a car.) He then tweeted a video of the alleged stalker and his license plate with the caption: “Does anyone recognize this person or car?”
That same day, Twitter suspended the @ElonJet account, owner Jack Sweeney’s account, and other accounts he controlled that tracked the locations of private jets using publicly available data. Today, enforcement ramped up with journalists tweeting about the situation.
Musk too conducted a poll asking when he should lift the suspension of the journalists tweeting about “ElonJet”. “Now” won with 43 percent of the vote (“Longer” came in second with 38.1 percent). In response, Musk said he would redo the poll because the original had too many options. He then posted a second poll, which will run for 24 hours. At the time of writing, “now” still wins.
Musk’s polls would play a role in his moderation decisions. Earlier, he said he had unbanned Trump and other previously suspended accounts based on poll results.
It also appears that Twitter is not letting people post links to some instances of the rival decentralized social network Mastodon. Specifically, our testing showed an error stating “we are unable to complete this request because this link has been identified as potentially malicious by Twitter or our partners” when tweeting 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 communication from Twitter other than a message at the top of my feed that I have been permanently banned and in read-only mode,” Rupar, one of the reporters who was suspended, said in an email to The edge. “I have no idea what could be the reason for this.” In a story on its Substackhe said he posted a tweet yesterday “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 neither Ryan have been given any explanation as to why this happened. We hope that all accounts of the journalists will be reinstated and that Twitter will provide a satisfactory explanation for this action.” CNN posted a statement called O’Sullivan’s suspension “worrying but not surprising”, and said it will re-evaluate its relationship with Twitter based on the explanation it receives for the ban.
The suspensions do not 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 quoted someone attempting to track Musk’s jet, according to a WayBack Machine archive.
Musk has previously pledged to make Twitter a “free speech” hub, holding out the @ElonJet account as the kind of thing he would allow on the platform, even if it could harm him. “My commitment to freedom of expression even extends to not banning the account that tracks my plane, even if that is a direct personal security risk,” he said. tweeted on Nov. 6.
Update December 15, 9:40 PM ET: Added information that Twitter appears to be blocking links to certain Mastodon instances.
Update December 15, 9:49 PM ET: Added statement from CNN, and additional examples of blocked Mastodon links.
Update December 15, 10:48 PM ET: Added Musk’s tweet in which he referred to the link of public information coming from the ElonJet account as “kill coordinates”.
Update December 16 at 12:33 a.m. ET: Added context about Musk joining a Twitter Space to discuss the suspensions, and running a poll asking when he should lift the journalists’ suspensions.