Twitter on Wednesday permanently suspended an account that tracked the location of Elon Musk’s private jet, despite the social media owner pledging last month: “My commitment to free speech even extends to not banning the account after my plane, even if it is a direct personal security risk.”[ads1];
The @ElonJet accountwhich had amassed more than 500,000 followers, was removed when the company posted a new set of injunctions which appeared to be designed specifically to justify the removal of the jet-tracking account. The move comes after Musk reinstated former Twitter rule breakers and stopped enforcing the platform’s guidelines forbidding misinformation about Covid-19.
The @ElonJet account, run by Jack Sweeney, a 20-year-old student from Florida, used publicly available flight tracking information to build a Twitter bot that tweeted every time Musk’s Gulfstream took off and landed at an airport. The last post from the account before the suspension showed Musk’s jet taking off from Oakland, California, on Monday and landing in Los Angeles 48 minutes later.
Sweeney woke up Wednesday morning to a message from Twitter informing him that @ElonJet was permanently suspended. Later in the day, his personal account and other jet-tracking accounts he operated were also closed by the company.
The report had long been a thorn in Musk’s side. According to screenshots Sweeney shared with CNN, Musk contacted him last December through a private message on Twitter and asked: “Can you take this down? It’s a security risk.”
Sweeney, a student at the University of Central Florida, recalled his surprise when he received the message in an interview with CNN on Wednesday.
“I was about to go to bed, and I was in a regular college dorm, and I remember saying to my roommate, ‘Hey, Elon Musk just sent me a direct message.’
The billionaire then offered Sweeney $5,000 to close the account. Sweeney countered the offer, raising it to $50,000, writing, “It would be a great support in college and would possibly allow me to get a car, maybe even a [Tesla] Model 3.” After some back and forth, Musk responded, “It doesn’t feel right to pay to shut this down.”
Sweeney said he started @ElonJet because he was a Musk fan. “It just gives you a different view that a lot of people don’t know about where [Musk] goes and can give you clues about what new business is going on,” he said.
The enterprising student believes he was tipped off on Saturday that his account was being targeted by social media management.
Sweeney said he received an email from an anonymous person posing as a Twitter employee that included a screenshot showing an internal message from Ella Irwin, Twitter’s new head of trust and safety, asking staff to ” apple heavy VF to @elonjet immediately.”
In Twitter parlance, “VF” stands for “visibility filtering” which limits the reach of certain accounts.
CNN has attempted to reach Irwin and Twitter for comment.
As part of the new policy announced Wednesday, Twitter said it will “prohibit sharing of other people’s live location in most cases.”
“You can still share your own live location on Twitter,” it said. “Tweets that share others’ historical (non-same-day) location information are also not prohibited by this policy.”
Musk also released its rationale for the new policy. “Any account that provides real-time location information about someone will be suspended, as it is a physical security breach. This includes posting links to sites with real-time location information. Posting locations someone traveled to on a slightly delayed basis is not a security issue, so it’s ok,” he wrote.
The restrictions around location sharing were not part of Twitter’s existing guidelines until this week.
Data from the Internet Archive shows the company updated its “Privacy and Media Policy” to add a clause prohibiting the sharing of live location data, “we will remove any tweets or accounts that share someone’s live location,” it said.
Asked if he planned to comply with the new guidelines, Sweeney told CNN that he would begin delaying publishing the whereabouts of Musk’s jet for 24 hours, “but only on Twitter.”