Elon Musk’s Twitter bans several prominent journalists without explanation

New York

Twitter on Thursday night banned the accounts of several high-profile journalists from top news organizations without explanation, apparently marking a significant attempt by new owner Elon Musk to exert his unilateral authority over the platform.

The accounts belonging to CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, The New York Times’ Ryan Mac, The Washington Post’s Drew Harwell and other journalists who have aggressively covered Musk in recent weeks were all abruptly permanently suspended. The account of progressive independent journalist Aaron Rupar was also banned.

Neither Musk nor Twitter responded to a request for comment Thursday night, and the platform did not explain exactly why the journalists were exiled from the platform. But when the news broke online, Musk tweeted that “the same doxxing rules apply to ‘journalists’ as to everyone else,” in an apparent reference to a now-banned aircraft tracking Twitter account at the center of the latest controversy.

The bans raised a number of questions about the future of the platform, which has been touted as a digital town square. It also seriously questioned Musk’s supposed commitment to free speech.

Musk has repeatedly said he wants to allow all legal speech on the platform; in April, the same day he announced he would buy Twitter, he had tweeted: “I hope even my worst critics stay on Twitter, because that’s what free speech means.”

A CNN spokesperson said the company has asked Twitter for an explanation and that it will “reevaluate our relationship based on that response.”

“The impulsive and unjustified suspension of a number of journalists, including CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, is concerning but not surprising. Twitter’s increasing instability and volatility should be of great concern to anyone who uses Twitter, the spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for the New York Times called the mass bans “questionable and unfortunate” and added: “Neither The Times nor Ryan has received any explanation as to why this happened. We hope that all journalists’ accounts are restored and that Twitter provides a satisfactory explanation for this action.”

“Elon says he’s a champion of free speech and he bans journalists for exercising free speech,” Harwell told CNN on Thursday. “I think it calls into question his commitment.”

Rupar also said he had heard “nothing” from Twitter about the suspension.

The suspensions come after Twitter shut down an account belonging to Mastodon, a new competitor, also on Thursday.

The Mastodon account had tweeted earlier in the day that people could follow @ElonJet, the account that tracks Musk’s private jets on the platform, after the billionaire banned @ElonJet from Twitter on Wednesday.

That tweet is probably what violates Twitter’s rules. In his quest to rid Twitter of @ElonJet, Musk introduced new policies banning accounts that track people’s live locations.

Musk also blocked any account from linking to such information, as Mastodon did by linking to the account on the platform.

The move comes after Musk reinstated former Twitter rule breakers and stopped enforcing the platform’s guidelines prohibiting misinformation about Covid-19.

Several of the journalists banned Thursday had covered the ban by the @ElonJet account, highlighting the irony of Musk’s self-proclaimed mission to promote free speech.

“Free speech is when the second richest man in the world threatens legal action against a 20-year-old student for sharing publicly available data he doesn’t like,” Harwell tweeted before his account was removed, referring to Jack Sweeney, the college student who runs @ElonJet.

CNN’s O’Sullivan had also covered the story after interviewing Sweeney and his grandmother about the issue.

“I think this is very important for the potential chilling effect this could have on freelance journalists, independent journalists around the world, especially those covering Elon Musk’s other companies, like Tesla and SpaceX,” O’Sullivan told CNN Thursday after his account . was suspended.

As the furor over the account suspensions unfolded, some Twitter users reported that the platform had begun to intervene when they attempted to post links to their own profiles on alternative social networks, including Mastodon.

Those reports were confirmed Thursday night by a CNN reporter who was blocked from sharing a Mastodon profile URL and received an automated error message saying that Twitter or its partners had identified the site as “potentially harmful.”

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