Musk reinstates reporters on Twitter. However, their companies never left.


When Twitter abruptly suspended the accounts of several prominent journalists Thursday night — in response to a baffling claim by new owner Elon Musk that they had compromised his safety — media executives were quick to speak out in protest.

The New York Times called the suspensions “questionable.” CNN said it would reevaluate its relationship with Twitter. The Washington Post demanded that Twitter restore the account of one of its tech reporters “immediately,” noting that he had simply been reporting accurately on Musk. One news startup, Puck, said it would end its paid advertising campaign on Twitter, while another, Semafor, was evaluating its own marketing campaign, a spokesperson said.

But without exception, these media organizations continued to tweet at their usual bustling pace from Thursday night through Friday — using their own official accounts to promote their latest stories.

Musk justified the suspensions by accusing reporters of posting “basically murder coordinates” for him and his family – a reference, apparently, to their reporting and tweets about Twitter’s decision to suspend an account, @ElonJet , which had used public flight data to share the location of Musk’s private jet.

The Post was unable to find evidence that the reporters in question had shared information about Musk or the location of his family.

Early Saturday, after an informal Twitter poll by Musk, he said suspensions would be immediately lifted for “accounts doxxing my location,” and several reporters’ accounts reappeared. Yet the response epitomized the contradictory and seemingly codependent relationship between the news media and social media.

In the 15 years since sites like Twitter and Facebook exploded in popularity, traditional news outlets have decided to view them as both an opportunity and a threat – powerful new vectors for bringing the news straight to the screens of avid readers. Publishers have invested heavily in staff whose primary job is to refine and promote stories through social media; editors praise journalists who have amassed tens of thousands of Twitter followers for the traffic they can bring to their sites.

Some executives are beginning to question whether Twitter traffic is worth it. But Friday’s modest response to a maneuver that drew widespread rebuke from free speech advocates – as well as the European Commission, the United Nations and members of Congress – suggests they won’t be stopping any time soon.

“How [else] are they going to get the word out? Unfortunately, Twitter is still the only real game in town,” said Vivian Schiller, a former president of NPR who also served as Twitter’s head of news in 2014. Don’t get me wrong, Musk is a whimsical, thin-skinned hypocrite. but he has us over a barrel,” she added, until another social media platform comes along to match it.

At least nine journalists, including Washington Post technology reporter Drew Harwell and New York Times journalist Ryan Mac, were affected by the suspensions, which the American Civil Liberties Union said were “impossible to reconcile with Twitter’s aspirations on freedom of speech”.

By early Saturday, some of those accounts had returned, but others appeared to remain locked until the offending tweet was deleted.

“I don’t know why I got suspended,” Business Insider’s Linette Lopez told The Post Friday, “and I haven’t heard from Twitter.” Lopez noted that she had not written or tweeted about the controversy over Musk’s flight records, but that she had shared court documents showing how Musk had a history of harassing critics and revealing personal information about them. Her account was suspended early Saturday.

Freedom of speech has been a rallying cry for Musk, the billionaire owner of Tesla and SpaceX, since he first moved to buy Twitter earlier this year and then made a point to scrap many of the company’s previous policies against hate speech and correct misinformation. a nearly two-year suspension of former President Donald Trump.

But even in conservative-minded media, where Musk was widely praised for reinstating Trump and other right-wing accounts, the suspensions were not uniformly praised.

On Friday morning, some hosts of the conservative Fox News talk show ‘Fox & Friends’ expressed their bewilderment. “This is crazy,” co-host Brian Kilmeade said. “If only they were critical [Musk]he has to explain why those people are suspended,” said co-host Steve Doocy.

Ben Shapiro, founder and editor of the Daily Wire, admitted he had some “schadenfreude” about journalists complaining about the move “given their enthusiasm for opaque Twitter censorship” – but seemed to come into play with Musk arguing that the suspended journalists had actually “doxed” his location. Fox News personality and radio host Dan Bongino said on his show that he disapproved of censoring or suspending journalist accounts, saying it could only result in them getting more attention.

Some of the strongest criticism of Musk’s decision came from an ally.

“The old regime on Twitter ruled by its own whims and prejudices and it certainly looks like the new regime has the same problem,” tweeted Bari Weiss, a former New York Times opinion writer. “I am against it in both cases. And I think those journalists who covered a public interest story should be reinstated.”

Weiss is one of several writers recently tapped by Musk to lead his “Twitter Files” project, in which he aired internal Twitter content moderation documents as part of his larger campaign to demonstrate that the previous company management unfairly dealt with conservative news sites. sand bills.

Despite Musk’s claim last month that Twitter is “by far the biggest click driver on the web,” a recent study by social analytics firm DataReportal found it was responsible for less than 8 percent of total social media referrals in the month. November 2021. .

Media organizations typically do not share detailed data about their web traffic. But a 2016 report using data from social analytics company found that only 1.5 percent of publisher traffic came from Twitter. “Twitter has an inordinate amount of influence,” a Nieman Lab report concluded, “but it doesn’t generate much traffic for most news organizations.”

Meanwhile, media executives have struggled to establish standards of behavior for their journalists on social media, where there can be a temptation to fall into spicier, more informal or more opinionated conversations than would be allowed in their own professional writing – or to voice their stories to their specific Twitter audience.

“The really insidious thing about Twitter is that it’s very easy for even very good journalists to confuse the response they’re getting on Twitter with the impact or response their reporting or their work in general is getting,” said Joseph Kahn. , editor-in-chief of the New York Times, in an interview with The Post in June.

Now Twitter’s unpredictability under Musk’s ownership further complicates the equation for media bosses.

“It’s a battle between the reputational impact of supporting a volatile platform that simultaneously remediates dangerous accounts and censors legitimate journalists, and the journalistic responsibility to stay active to counter rampant misinformation and disinformation,” said a network executive who spoke about the condition of anonymity in order to speak frankly.

There is precedent for leaving Twitter: Fox News kept its official account silent from November 2018 to March 2020, reportedly over concerns that a photo with host Tucker Carlson’s home address had been shared on the platform. According to statistics released by the network, this did not negatively impact Fox’s web traffic.

In mid-November, CBS News stepped away from Twitter for two days; one staffer said the company was concerned it no longer had an official contact to help with security concerns following a large employee exodus under Musk.

On Friday, it seemed for a moment that a news organization was preparing some kind of boycott, then the New York Times announced that it canceled a discussion to be held that day on Twitter’s “Spaces” about the best books of the year.

Instead, a spokesperson for the Times clarified that the decision was made for “technical reasons”.