Twitter on Thursday evening banned the accounts of several high-profile journalists from major news organizations without explanation, apparently signaling a significant attempt by new owner Elon Musk to unilaterally wield his power over the platform.
Accounts belonging to CNN’s Donnie O’Sullivan, The New York Times’ Ryan Mack, The Washington Post’s Drew Harwell, and other journalists who have covered Musk aggressively in recent weeks, have all been abruptly suspended permanently. Progressive freelance journalist Arun Ropar’s account was also banned.
Neither Musk nor Twitter responded to a request for comment Thursday evening, and the platform did not specifically explain why the journalists were being banished from the platform.
But he appeared to claim that the sanctioned accounts violated his new “doxxing” policy and shared what he described as “assassination coordinates,” though many noted that journalists did not distribute this type of information.
O’Sullivan, Mac, and Harwell recently reported on the ban of ElonJet, an account that posted real-time updates about the whereabouts of Musk’s private jet.
Doxxing generally refers to the practice of sharing someone’s home address or other personal information over the Internet. Instead, the banned account used publicly available flight data, which remains online and accessible, to track Musk’s plane.
The ban has raised a number of questions about the future of the platform, which has been referred to as the Digital City Square. It also raised serious questions about Musk’s supposed commitment to free speech.
Musk has said repeatedly that he’d like to allow all legal speech on the platform; In April, the same day he announced he was buying Twitter, he had tweeted: “I hope my worst critics stay on Twitter, because that’s what freedom of speech is all about.”
A CNN spokesperson said the company has asked Twitter for an explanation, and will “reassess our relationship based on this response.”
“The hasty and unwarranted comment by a number of reporters, including CNN’s Donnie O’Sullivan, is troubling but not surprising. The increasing instability and volatility of Twitter should be a major concern for everyone who uses Twitter,” the spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for The New York Times called the mass ban “questionable and unfortunate”, adding: “Neither the Times nor Ryan have received any explanation as to why this happened. We hope that all journalists’ accounts will be restored and that Twitter will provide a satisfactory explanation for this action.”
“Elon says he’s a free speech advocate, and he bans journalists for exercising free speech,” Harwell told CNN on Thursday. “I think that calls into question his commitment.”
Robar, too, said he hadn’t heard “anything” from Twitter about the suspension.
The @ElonJet account, which has amassed more than 500,000 followers, was permanently suspended Wednesday after Twitter introduced a set of new policies banning accounts that track people’s live locations. Musk also banned any account associated with Such information. Previously, there were no restrictions related to sharing location on Twitter.
The changes came after Musk reinstated previous rule-breaking work on Twitter and stopped enforcing the platform’s policies prohibiting misinformation about Covid-19.
Other accounts soon came under fire. On Thursday, Twitter It closed an account affiliated with Mastodon, a competing startup, which had tweeted earlier in the day that people could follow @ElonJet on its platform with a link included.
Several of the journalists arrested Thursday covered the ElonJet ban, which highlighted the irony of Musk’s alleged mission to promote free speech.
Harwell tweeted before deleting his account, referring to Jack Sweeney, a college student who runs @ElonJet.
CNN’s O’Sullivan was also covering the story, having interviewed Sweeney and his grandmother about the issue.
“I think this is very important for the potentially apocalyptic effect this could have on freelance journalists and journalists around the world, particularly those who cover other Elon Musk companies, like Tesla and SpaceX,” O’Sullivan told CNN Thursday after his account. It was broken.
As outrage spreads over the account’s suspension, some Twitter users reported that the platform began to interfere when they tried to post links to their profiles on alternative social networks, including Mastodon.
Those reports were confirmed Thursday night by a CNN reporter who was banned from sharing the URL of a Mastodon profile and given an automated error message saying that Twitter or its partners had identified the site as “potentially malicious.”
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