Dec 17 (Reuters) – Elon Musk reinstated the Twitter accounts of several journalists who were suspended for a day amid a controversy over the publication of public data about the billionaire’s aircraft.
The reinstatement came after the unprecedented suspensions drew stinging criticism from government officials, advocacy groups and journalist organizations from several parts of the world on Friday, with some saying the microblogging platform was endangering press freedom.
A Twitter survey conducted by Musk later also showed that a majority of respondents wanted the accounts restored immediately.
“The people have spoken. Accounts that have suspended my position will have their suspension lifted now,” Musk said in a tweet on Saturday.
Twitter did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. A Reuters check showed that the suspended accounts, which included journalists from the New York Times, CNN and the Washington Post, have been reinstated.
Officials from France, Germany, Britain and the EU have previously condemned the suspensions.
The episode, which a well-known security researcher called the “Thursday Night Massacre”, is seen by critics as fresh evidence of Musk, who considers himself a “free speech absolute”, eliminating speech and users he personally dislikes.
Shares in Tesla ( TSLA.O ), an electric car maker led by Musk, fell 4.7% on Friday and posted their worst weekly loss since March 2020, with investors growing concerned about his distraction and the slowing the global economy.
Roland Lescure, the French industry minister, tweeted on Friday that, following Musk’s suspension of journalists, he would suspend his own activity on Twitter.
Melissa Fleming, head of communications for the United Nations, 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 moves that put press freedom at risk.
The suspensions stemmed from a dispute over a Twitter account called ElonJet, which tracked Musk’s private jets using publicly available information.
On Wednesday, Twitter suspended the account and others tracking private jets, despite Musk’s previous tweet saying he would not suspend ElonJet in the name of free speech.
Then on Thursday evening, several journalists, including from the New York Times, CNN and the Washington Post, were suspended from Twitter without notice.
“I understand that the focus appears to be mainly on journalist accounts, but we applied the policy equally to journalist and non-journalist accounts today,” Irwin said in the email.
The Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing said in a statement on Friday that Twitter’s actions “violate the spirit of the First Amendment and the principle that social media platforms will allow the unfiltered distribution of information that is already in the public domain.”
Musk accused the reporters of posting his real-time location, which is “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 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.
The Washington Post’s Drew Harwell, one of the reporters who had been suspended but was still able to join the audio chat, pushed back against the notion that he had revealed Musk or his family’s exact location 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 “Fixing a Legacy bug. Should be working tomorrow.”
Reporting by Sheila Dang in Dallas and Eva Mathews, Sneha Bhowmik and Rhea Binoy in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin in San Francisco Editing by Nick Zieminski, Jonathan Oatis and Muralikumar Anantharaman
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