Twitter on Thursday suspended the accounts of several prominent journalists who recently wrote about its new owner Elon Musk, in a move the United Nations says "sets a dangerous precedent at a time when journalists all over the world are facing censorship, physical threats and even worse." The billionaire tweeting that rules banning the publishing of personal information applied to all, including journalists.
Responding to a Tweet on the account suspensions, Musk, who has portrayed himself as a free speech absolutist, tweeted: "Same doxxing rules apply to 'journalists' as to everyone else," a reference to Twitter rules banning the sharing of personal information, called doxxing.
Musk's tweet referred to Twitter's Wednesday suspension of @elonjet, an account tracking his private jet in real-time using data available in the public domain. Musk had threatened legal action against the account's operator, saying his son had been mistakenly followed by a "crazy stalker."
It was unclear if all the journalists whose accounts were suspended had commented on or shared news about @elonjet.
"Criticizing me all day long is totally fine, but doxxing my real-time location and endangering my family is not," Musk tweeted on Thursday.
He tweeted on Thursday that there would be a seven-day suspension for doxxing, following that up with a poll asking Twitter users to vote on when to reinstate the doxxed accounts.
He then said he had offered too many options on the poll and would redo it, after results showed that some 43% voted for reinstating the accounts "now" - the largest share for any option.
Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The suspensions echo chaotic actions at Twitter since Musk took over, including rapid firings of top management and thousands of employees, seesawing on how much to charge for Twitter's subscription service Twitter Blue, and reinstating banned accounts, including that of former President Donald Trump.
Twitter now leans heavily on automation to moderate content, doing away with certain manual reviews and favoring restrictions on distribution rather than removing certain speech outright, its new head of trust and safety, Ella Irwin, told Reuters this month.
'Questionable and unfortunate'
Among the journalist accounts suspended was that of Washington Post reporter Drew Harwell (@drewharwell), who wrote on social media platform Mastodon that he had recently written about Musk and posted links to "publicly available, legally acquired data."
Twitter also suspended the official account of Mastodon (@joinmastodon), which has emerged as an alternative to Twitter. Mastodon could not immediately be reached for comment.
Sally Buzbee, the Post's executive editor, said Harwell's suspension undermined Musk's claims that he intended to run Twitter as a platform dedicated to free speech.
Harwell, however, was able to speak on a Twitter spaces conversation with fellow journalists late on Thursday evening, a chat that Musk himself briefly dropped in on.
"You dox, you get suspended. End of story," Musk said on the chat as Harwell rejected the assertion that he had exposed Musk's real-time location, saying he had simply posted about @elonjet.
Twitter in turmoil after Musk takeover
Twitter updated its policy on Wednesday prohibiting the sharing of "live location information."
The accounts of Times reporter Ryan Mac (@rmac18), CNN reporter Donie O'Sullivan (@donie), and Mashable reporter Matt Binder @MattBinder were also suspended, as was that of independent journalist Aaron Rupar (@atrupar), who covers US policy and politics.
Mac recently posted a number of Twitter threads on the @elonjet suspension and interviewed Jack Sweeney, the 20-year-old operator of the account.
A spokesperson for The New York Times called the suspensions "questionable and unfortunate. Neither The Times nor Ryan have received any explanation about why this occurred. We hope that all of the journalists' accounts are reinstated and that Twitter provides a satisfying explanation for this action."
CNN said it had asked Twitter for an explanation on the suspensions and would reevaluate its relationship with the platform based on that response.
The other reporters could not immediately be reached for comment.