Twitter on Thursday suspended the accounts of journalists who cover that social network and who report on the actions of its new owner, billionaire Elon Musk. The measure affected professionals who work for media such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN, among other publications.
Unsuspend accounts who doxxed my exact location in real-time
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 16, 2022
The businessman seemed to relate it to the disclosure of his location data and, in fact, launched a survey on the social network to lift the blockade with different options, which ask when that decision should be made.
Any account doxxing real-time location info of anyone will be suspended, as it is a physical safety violation. This includes posting links to sites with real-time location info.
Posting locations someone traveled to on a slightly delayed basis isn’t a safety problem, so is ok.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 15, 2022
The restrictive measure had a profound impact on the media ecosystem and the decision began to be replicated on different news sites. However, the company did not provide an explanation as to why it removed the accounts, their profiles and their previous tweets.
The abrupt suspension of Twitter profiles came after the mogul on Wednesday permanently banned an account that tracked his private jet flights using publicly available data.
The action is linked to another measure that generated noise. The blue bird network changed its rules on Wednesday to prohibit sharing another person’s current location without their consent.
— Israel75 (@IFNY2775) December 16, 2022
Several of the suspended journalists on Twitter Thursday night had written about that new policy and Musk’s motives for imposing it, which had to do with his allegations about a bullying incident that affected his family Tuesday night in Los Angels.
Suspensions included Ryan Mac of The New York Times; Drew Harwell of The Washington Post; Aaron Rupar, freelance journalist; CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan; Mashable’s Matt Binder; Tony Webster, freelance journalist; Micah Lee of The Intercept; and political journalist Keith Olbermann. As published by The New York Times, the reason for the measure was not clear. Each user’s Twitter page included a message saying that he was suspending accounts that “violated the Twitter rules.”
Musk linked the suspended accounts to the disclosure of his location data. He actually opened a poll this Friday morning. “Unsuspend accounts that duplicated my exact location in real time,” he asked. The options “Now”, “Tomorrow”, “In 7 days”, “Later”.
“Same doxxing rules apply to journalists as everyone else,” Musk tweeted Thursday. Doxxing refers to revealing someone’s identity, address, or other personal information online.
Musk continued with his argument in the last hours. “If someone posted real-time locations and addresses of NYT reporters, the FBI would be investigating, there would be hearings on Capitol Hill, and Biden would give speeches about the end of democracy!” he asserted.
CNN noted in a statement that the “impulsive and unwarranted suspension of several reporters, including CNN’s Donnie 0’Sullivan, is concerning but not surprising.”
“The increasing instability and volatility of Twitter should be of great concern to anyone who uses Twitter,” the CNN statement added. “We have asked Twitter for an explanation and will re-evaluate our relationship based on that response.”
In the midst of the controversy, the owner of the Tesla electric car company also used the social network to respond. “Hitting on me all day is fine, but cheating on my real-time location and endangering my family is not,” he said.
His complaint and the change in policy
Musk tweeted this Wednesday that a “crazy stalker” had attacked a car in which his son was traveling in Los Angeles, when in fact they were looking for him. According to his account, the stalker blocked the movements of the vehicle in which his son was traveling and even got on the hood of the car. He promised legal action against all those who spread information about other people’s locations.
After denouncing the fact, Musk reported his new policy on the social network. “Any account that provides real-time location information of anyone will be suspended, as it is a breach of physical security. This includes posting links to sites with real-time location information.”
The decision reached the Elon’s Jet account, which tracks the movements of your private jet using public data from air traffic platforms. This is the account managed by the student Jack Sweeney, the same one that Musk had tried to buy months before the acquisition of Twitter became known.
Sweeney, a student at the University of Central Florida, had obtained legal support in February to maintain his account activity and even expand it. The Federal Aviation Association of the United States approved a request that the same young man presented to the organization.
The account Sweeney created showed the movements of Musk’s private jet using bots that monitored public air traffic data and recorded takeoffs and landings. In early 2022, various outlets had reported that Musk had tried to buy the account for $5,000. The student, however, wanted to raise the offer without success: he asked for a Tesla model 3, or US$50,000 for his training.
When disembarking on Twitter weeks ago, Musk had promised to keep the Elon’s Jet account operational. “My commitment to freedom of expression even extends to not banning the account that follows my plane, although that is a direct security risk personal,” he posted in a message on Nov. 6.
After what happened with his son, Musk ordered the ban and announced the change in policy. He also warned that he could take legal action against Jack Sweeney, 20, and against “organizations that have supported harm” to his family.
Rachel Maga is a technology journalist currently working at Globe Live Media agency. She has been in the Technology Journalism field for over 5 years now. Her life’s biggest milestone is the inside tour of Tesla Industries, which was gifted to her by the legend Elon Musk himself.