The suspensions came without warning or initial explanation from Twitter. They took place a day after Twitter changed its policy on sharing “live location information” and suspended an account, @ElonJet, that had used public flight data to share the location of Musk’s private jet.
Many of the journalists suspended Thursday, including Washington Post technology reporter Drew Harwell, had covered this rule change, as well as Musk’s claims that he and his family had been threatened by position sharing.
Twitter did not directly respond to questions about the suspensions. But Musk suggested on Twitter, without evidence, that the journalists had disclosed private information about his family, known as doxxing. “Criticizing me all day long is fine, but doxxing my real-time location and putting my family at risk is not” he tweeted late Thursday.
Harwell, whose recent stories covered the banning of @ElonJet and the rise of baseless allegations on Twitter, discovered he was unable to log into his account or tweet around 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
“Harwell was banished from Twitter without warning, due process or explanation, following the publication of his accurate reporting on Musk,” The Post’s editor-in-chief Sally Buzbee said in a statement. “Our journalist should be reinstated immediately.”
At least eight other journalists were suspended that evening, including New York Times technology reporter Ryan Mac.
CNN reporter Donie O’Sullivan was suspended shortly after posting a tweet about Musk’s claim that a “crazy stalker” had been chasing his young son in Los Angeles, according to screenshots.
Matt Binder, a Mashable reporter, tweeted about O’Sullivan’s suspension when his account also went dark.
Independent journalist Tony Webster’s account was also suspended on Thursday night. So were the accounts of former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann; Intercept reporter Micah Lee; Voice of America Chief National Correspondent Steve Herman; and Aaron Rupar, a Substack writer with nearly 800,000 followers on Twitter.
“It is impossible to juxtapose Twitter’s free speech ambitions with purging critical journalists’ accounts,” American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said in a statement. “The First Amendment protects Musk’s right to do this, but it’s a terrible decision. Their accounts should be restored immediately.”
The account bans were marked “the direction of Ella” in Twitter’s internal systems, according to two former employees in contact with Twitter staff. Ella Irwin, the company’s trust and security chief, has carried out many of Musk’s orders since he bought the company in late October and began changing the rules in the name of what he called “free speech.”
An earlier suspension was labeled “direction of Elon.”
Musk tweeted late Thursday that the suspensions would last for a week, even though several of the journalists had been informed by Twitter that they were being banned permanently. Later that night he took a Twitter survey about when he would reinstate the accounts – but restarted it after several respondents said he should do so immediately.
Musk also repeated his baseless claim that the journalists had revealed private information about his family.
“The same doxxing rules apply to ‘journalists’ as to everyone else,” he wrote in another tweet. “They posted my exact real-time location, basically assassination coordinates.”
Around 11.30pm on Thursday, Musk joined a Twitter Spaces chat – essentially a public conference call – with several journalists, including some who had been banned, in which he repeated the claim that they had “doxed” him.
The journalists challenged him on this.
“You are suggesting that we share your address, which is not true,” Harwell said.
Musk replied: “You posted a link to the address.”
Harwell responded: “In the course of reporting on @ElonJet, we posted a link to @ElonJet, which is now offline.”
Musk abruptly left the call about four minutes later.
Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion in late October, and quickly set about repealing many of the previous management’s policies against hate speech and misinformation. He has moved to reinstate former President Donald Trump and other accounts suspended under previous leadership, saying Twitter’s new policy is “free speech but not reach.”
But Musk’s Twitter had already banned some high-profile accounts before Thursday’s apparent purge.
On Wednesday, @ElonJet was permanently suspended despite a tweet from Musk weeks earlier saying he would continue doing so as part of “my commitment to free speech.”
That same day, a new Twitter policy prohibited the sharing of “live location information, including information shared on Twitter directly or links to … itineraries, actual physical location, or other identifying information that would reveal an individual’s location, regardless of whether that information is publicly available.” “
Still, none of the tweets from suspended journalists reviewed by The Post revealed the location of Musk or his family.
Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Messe) wrote on Twitter Thursday night that her staff had met with Twitter officials that same day. “They told us they are not going to retaliate against independent journalists or researchers who publish criticism of the platform. Less than 12 hours later, several tech reporters have been suspended.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists attacked the suspensions in a statement:
“We are concerned about news reports that journalists covering recent developments involving Twitter and its owner, Elon Musk, have had their accounts on the platform suspended. If confirmed as retaliation for their work, this would be a serious violation of journalists’ right to report the news without fear of reprisal.”
A New York Times spokesman called the suspensions “questionable and unfortunate” in a statement Thursday night.
“Neither The Times nor Ryan has received any explanation as to why this happened,” Charlie Stadtlander said. “We hope that all the journalists’ accounts are restored and that Twitter provides a satisfactory explanation for this action.”
In a company statement, CNN called the suspension of O’Sullivan and other reporters “impulsive and unjustified” and said it had asked Twitter for an explanation. “We will reassess our relationship based on that response.”
Faiz Siddiqui, Joseph Menn and Elahe Izadi contributed to this report.