Musk restores journalists’ Twitter accounts after suspensions generate backlash

Elon Musk reinstated the Twitter accounts of several journalists who were suspended for a day over a controversy over the publication of public data about the billionaire’s plane.

The reinstatements came after Friday’s unprecedented suspensions drew scathing criticism from government officials, advocacy groups and journalism organizations around the world, with some saying the microblogging platform was endangering press freedom.

A Twitter poll Musk later conducted also showed that most respondents wanted the accounts reinstated immediately.

“The people have spoken. The accounts that doxxed my location will now have their suspensions lifted,” Musk said in a tweet on Saturday.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. A check by Reuters showed that the suspended accounts, which included reporters from the New York Times, CNN and the Washington Post, have been reinstated.

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

The episode, which a well-known security researcher dubbed the “Thursday Night Massacre,” is being seen by critics as further evidence of Musk, who considers himself a “free speech absolutist,” removing the speaks and users that he personally does not like.

Shares in Tesla, an electric car maker led by Musk, fell 4.7% on Friday and posted their worst weekly loss since March 2020, with investors increasingly worried about a distraction and a slowdown of the global economy.

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

UN 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 on Twitter that the ministry had a problem with moves that endangered press freedom.

AWAY

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 tracking the private jets, despite Musk’s earlier tweet saying it would not suspend ElonJet in the name of free speech.

Shortly thereafter, Twitter changed its privacy policy to prohibit sharing “live location information.”

Then, on Thursday evening, several journalists, including those from the New York Times, CNN and the Washington Post, were suspended from Twitter without warning.

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

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

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

Musk accused reporters of publishing his real-time location, which are “basically assassination coordinates” for his family.

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

“If I dox you, you’re 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 reporters who had been suspended but was nevertheless able to join the audio chat, dismissed the idea that he had exposed Musk or his family’s exact location by posting a link at ElonJet.

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

In a tweet explaining what happened, Musk said: “We’re fixing a Legacy bug. It should be up and running tomorrow.”

© Thomson Reuters 2022.

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