Twitter suspended the accounts of journalists covering the social media network and its new owner, Elon Musk, on Thursday, including reporters from The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Voice of America, and other publications.
The corporation has not explained to the journalists why it deactivated the accounts and deleted their profiles and previous tweets. On Thursday night, Musk took to Twitter to accuse journalists of publishing private information about his movements, which he described as “essentially assassination coordinates.” He gave no evidence to back up his assertion.
The abrupt suspension of press reporters followed Musk’s move on Wednesday to permanently ban an account that tracked his private jet’s flights using publicly available data. This prompted Twitter to amend its policies for all users, making it illegal to share another person’s present location without their permission.
Several of the reporters dismissed Thursday night had been writing about the new policy and Musk’s reasoning for instituting it, which included his assertions about a stalking episode in Los Angeles on Tuesday night that he said damaged his family.
Mastodon, a decentralized social network marketed as an alternative to Twitter, has had its official account suspended. Though it had tweeted about the jet tracking account, the cause was unknown.
“The same doxxing standards apply to ‘journalists’ as to everyone else,” Musk wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “Criticizing me all day is absolutely OK,” he later added, “but doxxing my real-time location and harming my family is not.”
Doxxing is the online disclosure of someone’s identify, address, or other personal information.
Sally Buzbee, executive editor of the Washington Post, demanded that technology reporter Drew Harwell’s Twitter account be reactivated immediately. “Elon Musk’s assertion that he plans to manage Twitter as a platform committed to free speech is immediately undermined,” Buzbee said. “Harwell was expelled without notice, process, or explanation after publishing truthful information regarding Musk.”
“Twitter’s rising instability and volatility should be of enormous worry to everyone who uses Twitter,” CNN continued in its statement. “We have requested an explanation from Twitter and will reassess our partnership based on their response.”
Another suspended journalist, Matt Binder of Mashable, said he was banned Thursday night after sharing a screenshot that O’Sullivan had shared prior to his own suspension.
The screenshot shows a statement made earlier Thursday to numerous media sources, including The Associated Press, by the Los Angeles Police Department about how it was in contact with Musk’s agents about the claimed stalking incident, but that no crime complaint had yet been filed.
“I did not provide any location data in accordance with Twitter’s new conditions. “I also did not disclose any connections to ElonJet or other location tracking accounts,” Binder stated via email. “I have been harshly critical of Musk, but I have never violated any of Twitter’s stated regulations.”
Binder claimed that a notification he received while attempting to access his Twitter account revealed that his suspension was indefinite. In answer to a question concerning his ban of former ESPN and MSNBC host Keith Olbermann, Musk later said the penalty might last a week.
Musk briefly attended a Twitter Spaces conference conversation hosted by Buzzfeed journalist Kate Notopoulos late Thursday. He continued his assertions that the journalists Twitter barred from reporting on the banned jet tracking accounts were “doxxing” him.
“There is no special treatment for journalists,” Musk responded when asked if there was a link between the stalker incident and the sharing of real-time information by the Post’s Drew Harwell.
“You dox, you get suspended, end of story,” he concluded before signing out suddenly. The Spaces unexpectedly ceased shortly after 9 p.m. Pacific time.
“Sorry it appears the Space cut out, screen went suddenly blank on my end and everyone got booted,” host Notopoulos tweeted at 9:14pm Pacific.
Another suspended reporter, Steve Herman of Voice of America, said he assumes he was banned “because I was tweeting about other journalists being suspended for tweeting about accounts being booted that had linked to the Elon Jet feed.”
The suspensions come as Musk makes major changes to content moderation on Twitter. He has tried, through the release of selected company documents dubbed as “The Twitter Files,” to claim the platform suppressed right-wing voices under its previous leaders.
He has promised to let free speech reign and has reinstated high-profile accounts that previously broke Twitter’s rules against hateful conduct or harmful misinformation, but also has said he would suppress negativity and hate by depriving some accounts of “freedom of reach.”
The non-profit Committee to Protect Journalists, which defends journalists throughout the world, expressed worry about the suspensions on Thursday night.
“If confirmed as retaliation for their work, this would be a serious violation of journalists’ right to report the news freely,” the group added.
Vera Jourova, the European Union Commissioner in charge of the bloc’s work on values and transparency, also spoke out.
“Twitter news of arbitrary suspension of journalists is concerning,” she tweeted. Existing EU media standards, as well as new digital restrictions that will go into effect next year, demand “respect for media freedom and basic rights.”
“@elonmusk should be aware of that,” Jourova remarked. There are several red lines. And eventually, sanctions.”
Germany’s government added to the criticism. The Foreign Ministry tweeted that it “had a problem” with being unable to follow the suspended accounts, adding that “press freedom must not be toggled on and off at will.”
Spokesman Christofer Burger said the ministry launched an account on Mastodon “to ensure we stay approachable”.