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Elon Musk Suspends Journalists on Twitter Who Report on Him

The suspensions seem to be linked to a dispute that Musk has with a now-suspended account that used publicly available info to track his private jet.

Elon Musk's profile picture on his Twitter page
Sarah Tew/CNET

Twitter abruptly suspended the accounts of at least six tech journalists on Thursday, including reporters for The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN.

Many of the reporters had recently tweeted about a dispute between Elon Musk, the social network's new owner, and a user who ran a series of now-suspended accounts that used publicly available flight information to track the location of private jets, including the one used by Musk. 

The suspensions, which appear to have occurred around 4:30 p.m. PT, include Washington Post technology reporter Drew Harwell, New York Times technology reporter Ryan Mac and CNN reporter Donie O'Sullivan.

Aaron Rupar, a Substack writer who was also suspended Thursday, said he's dumbfounded by his suspension.

"I have no idea what rules I purportedly broke," Rupar wrote on Substack. "I haven't heard anything from Twitter at all."

Rupar said he "posted a tweet late last night noting that Musk seemed to violate Twitter's policy against posting footage of someone without their consent in a tweet he posted yesterday. But it's hard to imagine how either of those things violated Twitter's policies."

Twitter on Wednesday suspended the @ElonJet account, along with other accounts that tracked the private planes of Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, after updating its privacy policy to prohibit posting or linking to information about a person's physical location or travel route, regardless of whether the information is publicly available.

After suspending @ElonJet, Musk tweeted that "any account doxxing real-time location info of anyone will be suspended, as it is a physical safety violation. This includes posting links to sites with real-time location info." 

Doxxing is the practice of posting identifying information about an individual online, such as their real name, home address or phone number.

The policy change came a day after Musk claimed one of his children was subjected to an incident involving a "crazy stalker" in Los Angeles. However, O'Sullivan's account was suspended after tweeting a statement from the Los Angeles Police Department that it was in contact with Musk's security team but that "no crime reports have been filed yet."

Late Thursday evening, Musk engaged in a Twitter Spaces discussion with a group of journalists and longtime associate Jason Calacanis about the suspensions before quickly withdrawing from the interview when pressed for more details about the suspensions. Twitter subsequently shut down the Spaces feature, but it was up and running again Friday morning.

Twitter, which no longer has a communications department, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. But Musk responded to a tweet about the suspensions with a one-sentence response that read: "Same doxxing rules apply to 'journalists' as to everyone else."

He later tweeted that doxxing suspensions will last for seven days.

Musk has had a long-running dispute with Jack Sweeney, the 20-year-old student who operates the account. Earlier this year, Musk reportedly offered Sweeney $5,000 to take down the account, but the 20-year-old student refused, saying $5,000 wasn't enough for the satisfaction he received from his work.

CNN called the suspensions "impulsive and unjustified," adding that "Twitter's increasing instability and volatility should be of incredible concern for everyone who uses the platform."

The American Civil Liberties Union also condemned the suspensions.

"Purging critical journalists is an attack on free expression," the ACLU said in a tweet Thursday evening. "The First Amendment protects Musk's right to do this even if it's a terrible decision. Twitter should reinstate these accounts immediately."

The Society of Professional Journalists also expressed concern over the suspensions, with SPJ President Claire Regan saying in a tweet that "Twitter's action affects all journalists and goes against Musk's promise to uphold free speech on the platform."

European officials also voiced concerns. Věra Jourová, vice president for values and transparency for the European Commission, called the suspensions "worrying" and noting that respect for media freedom is required under the European Union's Digital Services Act. "There are red lines," she tweeted. "And sanctions, soon."

The German Foreign Office tweeted its displeasure, warning the platform that it has a problem with moves that put press freedom in jeopardy, Reuters reported.

Other journalists suspended Thursday evening include Mashable reporter Matt Binder, Intercept reporter Micah Lee and former MSNBC host Keith Olberman, who had criticized Musk in tweets. 

Twitter has been in chaos since Musk completed his purchase of the company on Oct. 27. About half the Twitter staff was laid off days after Musk took charge, and the site briefly launched a new "blue check" verification service only to be plagued with trolls and fake "verified" accounts.

An account that helped Twitter users sign up at rival social network Mastodon was also suspended Thursday.