Elon Musk’s suspension of journalists on Twitter has sparked global reactions

Dec. 16 (Reuters) – Twitter’s unprecedented suspension of at least five journalists over claims they revealed owner Elon Musk’s real-time location quickly drew backlash from government officials, advocacy groups and journalistic organizations around the world on Friday.

In a 24-hour poll later by Musk on Twitter on whether to restore journalists’ accounts, 58.7% of the vote was in favor of immediate restoration.

The accounts were still suspended about 15 minutes after the poll closed, a Reuters check showed.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

The suspensions on Thursday night drew criticism from government officials, advocacy groups and journalistic organizations in various parts of the world, with some saying the microblogging platform was endangering press freedom.

Officials from France, Germany, Britain and the European Union condemned the suspensions.

Dubbed the “Thursday Night Massacre” by a well-known security researcher, the episode has been regarded by critics as further evidence of the billionaire, who considers himself a “free speech absolutist”, eliminating speech and users he personally not allowed.

Shares in Tesla (TSLA.O), an electric car maker led by Musk, fell 4.7% on Friday, posting their biggest weekly loss since March 2020, with investors increasingly worried about its distraction and slowing growth. world economy.

Roland Lescure, France’s industry minister, tweeted on Friday that following Musk’s suspension of journalists, he would suspend his own activities on Twitter.

United Nations communications chief Melissa Fleming tweeted that she was “deeply disturbed” by the suspensions and that “media freedom is not a toy”.

The German Foreign Ministry warned Twitter that the ministry had a problem with actions that endangered press freedom.

ELONJET

The suspensions stemmed from a disagreement over a Twitter account called ElonJet, which tracked Musk’s private jet using publicly available information.

On Wednesday, Twitter suspended the account and others following private jets, despite Musk’s earlier tweet saying he would not suspend ElonJet in the name of free speech.

Soon after, Twitter changed its privacy policy to prohibit the sharing of “live location information”.

Subsequently, on Thursday night, several journalists, including those from the New York Times, CNN and the Washington Post, were suspended from Twitter without notice.

In an email to Reuters, Ella Irwin, Twitter’s head of trust and security, said the team manually reviewed “all accounts” that violated the new privacy policy by posting direct links to the ElonJet account.

“I understand that the focus seems to be mostly on journalist accounts, but we’ve applied the policy equally to journalists and non-journalist accounts today,” Irwin said in the email.

The Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing said in a statement Friday that Twitter’s actions “contrary to the spirit of the First Amendment and the principle that social media platforms allow the unfiltered dissemination of information already in the public square.” .

Musk accused the journalists of posting his real-time location, which are “basically murder coordinates” for his family.

The billionaire briefly appeared in a Twitter Spaces audio chat hosted by journalists, which quickly turned into a controversial discussion about whether the suspended reporters had actually revealed Musk’s real-time location in violation of policy.

“If you dox, you get suspended. End of story,” Musk said repeatedly in response to questions. “Dox” is a term for publishing private information about someone, usually with malicious intent.

Drew Harwell of the Washington Post, one of the journalists who was suspended but was still able to participate in the audio chat, balked at the idea that he had revealed the exact location of Musk or his family by posting a link to ElonJet.

Soon after, BuzzFeed reporter Katie Notopoulos, who hosted the Spaces chat, tweeted that the audio session was cut short and the recording was unavailable.

In a tweet explaining what happened, Musk said, “We’re fixing a Legacy bug. Should work tomorrow.”

Reporting by Sheila Dang in Dallas; Additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin in San Francisco, Eva Mathews, Rhea Binoy and Sneha Bhowmik in Bengaluru; Edited by Nick Zieminski, Jonathan Oatis and Muralikumar Anantharaman

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.