Twitter suspensions raise alarm in and outside media circles

Twitter Suspensions Raise Alarm In And Outside Media Circles
Miguel Roberts, The Brownsville Herald via AP

SpaceX's Elon Musk waves Feb. 10 while providing an update on Starship near Brownsville, Texas.

Elon Musk’s abrupt suspension of several journalists who cover Twitter is adding to a growing rift between the social media site and media organizations that have used the platform to build their audiences.

Accounts of reporters with The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Voice of America and other publications, went dark Thursday.

The suspension of journalists continued Friday with the account of a Business Insider columnist who published a series of articles between 2018 and 2021 highlighting what she called dangerous Tesla manufacturing shortcomings.

There was an exodus of advertisers shortly after the billionaire’s $44 billion acquisition of Twitter in October over content moderation and Musk now risks a rupture with media organizations, among the most active on the platform.

The company hasn’t explained to the journalists why it took down the accounts and made their profiles and past tweets disappear. But Musk took to Twitter on Thursday night to accuse journalists of sharing private information about his whereabouts that he described as “basically assassination coordinates.” He provided no evidence for that claim.

Business Insider’s Linette Lopez told The Associated Press that she was given no explanation for the suspension. Shortly before being suspended, she said she posted court-related documents to Twitter that included a 2018 Musk email address. That address is not current, said Lopez, because “he changes his email every few weeks. If he wants to call that doxxing, fine.”

On Tuesday, she posted a 2019 story about Tesla troubles, commenting “Now, just like then, most of @elonmusk’s wounds are self inflicted.” The same day, she called reports of Musk reneging on severance for laid off Twitter employees, threatening workers who talk to the press and refusing rent payments “classic Elon-going-for-broke behavior.”

Alarm over the suspensions extended beyond media circles, however.

“From our standpoint, the move sets a dangerous precedent at a time when journalists all over the world are facing censorship, physical threats and even worse, and we are remaining in touch with officials,” said U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

The sudden suspension of news reporters followed Musk’s decision Wednesday to permanently ban an account that automatically tracked the flights of his private jet using publicly available data.

That also led Twitter to change its rules for all users to prohibit the sharing of another person’s current location without their consent.

Several of the reporters suspended Thursday night were writing about the new policy and Musk’s rationale for imposing it, which involved his allegations about a stalking incident he said affected his family on Tuesday night in Los Angeles.

The official account for Mastodon, a decentralized social network billed as an alternative to Twitter, was also banned. The reason was unclear, though it had tweeted about the jet tracking account.

“Same doxxing rules apply to ‘journalists’ as to everyone else,” Musk tweeted Thursday. He later added: “Criticizing me all day long is totally fine, but doxxing my real-time location and endangering my family is not.”

“Doxxing” refers to disclosing online someone’s identity, address, or other personal details.

The Washington Post’s executive editor, Sally Buzbee, called for technology reporter Drew Harwell’s Twitter account to be reinstated immediately.

The suspension “directly undermines Elon Musk’s claim that he intends to run Twitter as a platform dedicated to free speech,” Buzbee wrote. “Harwell was banished without warning, process or explanation, following the publication of his accurate reporting about Musk.”

CNN said in a statement that “the impulsive and unjustified suspension of a number of reporters, including CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, is concerning but not surprising.”

“Twitter’s increasing instability and volatility should be of incredible concern for everyone who uses Twitter,” CNN’s statement added. “We have asked Twitter for an explanation, and we will reevaluate our relationship based on that response.”

Late Thursday, Musk briefly joined a Twitter Spaces chat hosted by journalist Kate Notopoulos of Buzzfeed. Musk stood by the suspensions saying, “You doxx, you get suspended, end of story.”

He abruptly left the conversation and a short time later, all of Twitter Spaces went offline.

Musk later tweeted that “We’re fixing a Legacy Bug” and that the service should be up and running again Friday. It remained dormant Friday afternoon.

Twitter is projected to lose 32 million of its users over the next two years, according to a forecast by Insider Intelligence.

They’re projecting a nearly 4% drop in 2023 and another 5% drop in 2024, as technical issues and the return of accounts banned for offensive posts return under new Twitter rules.