Elon Musk starts banning critical journalists from Twitter

Elon Musk starts banning critical journalists from Twitter

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. This evening, Musk logged into a Twitter Space to try to explain why, and ran a poll asking when the journalists should be unbanned — in both instances, things didn’t exactly go his way.

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. Apparently, though, accounts that can’t post can still join a Twitter Spaces live audio chat. In a Space that included Harwell, Binder, and the ElonJet account, Musk eventually tried to explain himself.

“You dox, you get suspended. End of story, that’s it.”

In that conversation, Musk accused the journalists of “ban evasion.” Once the ElonJet account had been banned from Twitter, its owner set up accounts on Facebook and Mastodon. By posting links to those accounts, he argued, the journalists were trying to get around 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 — was different from Twitter’s earlier treatment 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 The New York Post story.

Details on that moderation decision were released on Twitter earlier this month — with Musk’s support. (In April, he tweeted that suspending The New York Post’s account because of the story “was obviously incredibly inappropriate.) Musk even teased the release of the information by saying, “This will be awesome” and tweeting popcorn emoji. In the course of the release, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s email address was revealed.

Musk replied to Harwell by saying, “You dox, you get suspended. End of story, that’s it.” He then left the space.

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.”

In a tweet earlier in the evening, Musk said of the bans: “They posted my exact real-time location, basically assassination coordinates, in (obvious) direct violation of Twitter terms of service” he said. The ElonJet account in the links he objected to automatically shares publicly available information on the flight path for Elon Musk’s private jet. (It does not list the passenger manifest.)

Accounts like ElonJet —and the similarly suspended CelebJet and RUOligarchJets — are frequently used by climate activists to highlight the egregious effect private jets have on the environment. Musk, Kylie Jenner, Kim Kardashian, and Taylor Swift have all come under fire this year for using jets when alternative means of transportation could be used with less deleterious effects on the environment.

Musk has long had issue with the location of his private jet being shared in real time. At one point, he went so far as to offer thousands of dollars to the manager of the @ElonJet account to take it 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. (It is unclear how the location of the jet led to a car.) 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.

Screenshot of three tweets: The first is a poll from Elon Musk reading “Unsuspend accounts who doxxed my exact location in real-time?” with the options “Now,” “Tomorrow,” “7 days from now,” and “longer.” Now won with 43 percent. Musk responded “sorry, too many options. Will redo poll,” then created a new poll with the same question, but two options: “now,” and “in 7 days.”

Asking the audience.

Musk also ran a poll asking when he should un-suspend the journalists who tweeted about “ElonJet.” “Now” won with 43 percent of the vote (“Longer” was runner up with 38.1 percent). In response, Musk said he’d redo the poll because the original had too many options. He then posted a second poll, which will run for 24 hours. As of this writing, “now” is still winning.

Musk’s polls supposedly have weight in his moderation decisions. Previously, he has said he unbanned Trump, as well as other previously suspended accounts, based on poll results.

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 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.

Update December 15, 10:48PM ET: Added Musk’s tweet calling the link of public information sourced by the ElonJet account “assassination coordinates”.

Update December 16th, 12:33AM ET: Added context about Musk joining a Twitter Space to discuss the suspensions, and running a poll asking when he should un-suspend the journalists.