Several well-known journalists who cover Elon Musk have had their Twitter accounts suspended, including Ryan Mac of The New York Times, Donie O’Sullivan of CNN, Drew Harwell of The Washington Post, Micha Lee of The Intercept, Matt Binder of Mashable, Aaron Rupar, and Tony Webster.
This evening, Musk tried to explain why in a Twitter Space and asked when the journalists should be unbanned in a poll, but neither of those attempts precisely went his way.
All of the journalists who have been suspended appear to have tweeted recently about Musk’s efforts to impose stricter restrictions on the disclosure of his private jet’s location. However, it appears that accounts that are unable to post can still participate in a Twitter Spaces live audio chat. The ElonJet account, Harwell, and Binder were all present in the space where Musk eventually made an effort to defend himself.
In that exchange, Musk charged the reporters with “ban evasion.” After Twitter suspended the ElonJet account, its owner created profiles on Facebook and Mastodon. He said that by publishing links to those accounts, the journalists were attempting to circumvent his ban.
The Washington Post’s Harwell questioned Musk about how Twitter’s response of a New York Post story about a laptop holding Hunter Biden’s personal information was different from Musk’s decision to restrict accounts sharing the other ElonJet sites as well as journalists covering the situation. Twitter’s moderation team decided to prohibit links to a piece from The New York Post in 2020.
With Musk’s backing, information about that moderation decision was revealed on Twitter earlier this month. Musk even teased the disclosure of the material by saying, “This will be amazing,” and tweeting a popcorn emoji (in April, he stated that suspending The New York Post’s account due to the report “was obviously terribly improper. Jack Dorsey, a co-founder of Twitter, revealed his email address during the announcement.
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.” 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.)
Climate activists commonly utilize accounts like ElonJet to highlight the severe environmental impact that private jets have. CelebJet and RUOligarchJets have also been suspended. Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, and Elon Musk have all faced criticism this year for utilizing aircraft when more environmentally friendly alternatives might be employed.
Musk has long objected to the live sharing of his private jet’s whereabouts. He even went so far as to make the @ElonJet account manager an offer of thousands of dollars to take the account offline at one point. He suggested in a tweet on Wednesday that a “crazy stalker” had used the account to locate and jump onto the bonnet of a car transporting one of his children. (How the position of the aircraft led to an automobile is unknown.) “Anyone recognize this person or car?” he tweeted after posting a video of the alleged stalker and his license plate.
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. 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.
Additionally, it appears that some instances of the rival decentralized social network Mastodon are blocked from posting links on Twitter.
Our tests specifically revealed an error when attempting to tweet URLs to Mastodon.social, Mastodon.lol, Mastodon.xyz, Mastodon.au, Mastodon.ie, Mastodon.scot, Mastodonapp.uk, Mastodon.world, and others because Twitter or our partners have recognized such connections as potentially hazardous. After tweeting a link to the ElonJet Mastodon account earlier today, Mastodon’s Twitter account was shut off.
One of the suspended reporters, Rupar, wrote to The Verge in an email, “I have not gotten any contacts from Twitter whatsoever, other than a warning at the top of my feed saying I am permanently banned and in read-only mode. “I have no idea what could have prompted this.”
According to a post on his Substack, he noted in a tweet that day that the ElonJet account that had been banned from Twitter was still active on Facebook and included a link to the Facebook page.
Charlie Stadtlander, a spokesman for The New York Times, said in a statement that “neither The Times nor Ryan have received any explanation about why this occurred. We anticipate that Twitter will reinstate all of the journalists’ accounts and give a convincing justification for its decision.
It doesn’t seem like the suspensions are just confined to journalists. The Twitter account for ADS-B Exchange, which bills itself as “the world’s greatest source of open unblocked unfiltered flight data for hobbyists,” as well as commentator Keith Olbermann have both been suspended. The account recently quote-retweeted someone trying to track Musk’s jet, according to a WayBack Machine archive.
Musk has previously pledged to turn Twitter into a forum for “free speech,” pointing to the @ElonJet account as an example of the kind of content he would tolerate there even if it put him in danger. On November 6, he tweeted, “My dedication to free expression extends even to not blocking the account following my plane, even if that is a direct risk to my personal safety.”
December 15, 9:40 p.m. ET, update: Information that Twitter seems to be preventing links to specific Mastodon instances has been added.
Update, December 15 @ 9:49 PM ET: CNN statement and further instances of Mastodon URLs being banned.
Updated on December 15, 10:48 PM ET: Added Musk’s tweet referring to the link to the publicly available data cited by the ElonJet account as “assassination coordinates.”