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Elon Musk’s Twitter suspension of journalists draws global backlash

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Twitter’s unprecedented suspension of at least five journalists over claims they revealed the real-time location of owner Elon Musk drew swift backlash from government officials, advocacy groups and journalism organizations across the globe on Friday.

In a 24-hour poll later by Musk on Twitter on whether to restore the journalists’ accounts, 58.7% votes were in favor of restoring them immediately.

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The accounts were still suspended approximately 15 minutes after the poll closed, a check by Reuters showed.

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Twitter did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

The suspensions on Thursday evening drew criticism from government officials, advocacy groups and journalism organizations in several parts of the world, with some saying the microblogging platform was jeopardizing press freedom.

Officials from France, Germany, Britain and the European Union condemned the suspensions.

The episode, which one well known security researcher labeled the “Thursday Night Massacre,” is being regarded by critics as fresh evidence of the billionaire, who considers himself a “free speech absolutist,” eliminating speech and users he personally dislikes.

Shares in Tesla, an electric car maker led by Musk, slumped 4.7% on Friday and posted their worst weekly loss since March 2020, with investors increasingly concerned about his being distracted and about the slowing global economy.

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Roland Lescure, the French minister of industry, tweeted on Friday that, following Musk’s suspension of journalists, he would suspend his own activity on Twitter.

Melissa Fleming, head of communications for the United Nations, tweeted she was “deeply disturbed” by the suspensions and that “media freedom is not a toy.”

The German Foreign Office warned Twitter that the ministry had a problem with moves that jeopardized press freedom.

ELONJET

The suspensions stemmed from a disagreement over a Twitter account called ElonJet, which tracked Musk’s private plane using publicly available information.

On Wednesday, Twitter suspended the account and others that tracked private jets, despite Musk’s previous tweet saying he would not suspend ElonJet in the name of free speech.

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Shortly after, Twitter changed its privacy policy to prohibit the sharing of “live location information.”

Then on Thursday evening, several journalists, including from the New York Times, CNN and the Washington Post, were suspended from Twitter with no notice.

In an email to Reuters overnight, Twitter’s head of trust and safety, Ella Irwin, said the team manually reviewed “any and all accounts” that violated the new privacy policy by posting direct links to the ElonJet account.

“I understand that the focus seems to be mainly on journalist accounts, but we applied the policy equally to journalists and non-journalist accounts today,” Irwin said in the email.

The Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing said in a statement on Friday that Twitter’s actions “violate the spirit of the First Amendment and the principle that social media platforms will allow the unfiltered distribution of information that is already in the public square.”

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Musk accused the journalists of posting his real-time location, which is “basically assassination coordinates” for his family.

The billionaire appeared briefly in a Twitter Spaces audio chat hosted by journalists, which quickly turned into a contentious discussion about whether the suspended reporters had actually exposed Musk’s real-time location in violation of the policy.

“If you dox, you get suspended. End of story,” Musk said repeatedly in response to questions. “Dox” is a term for publishing private information about someone, usually with malicious intent.

The Washington Post’s Drew Harwell, one of the journalists who had been suspended but was nonetheless able to join the audio chat, pushed back against the notion that he had exposed Musk or his family’s exact location by posting a link to ElonJet.

Soon after, BuzzFeed reporter Katie Notopoulos, who hosted the Spaces chat, tweeted that the audio session was cut off abruptly and the recording was not available.

In a tweet explaining what happened, Musk said “We’re fixing a Legacy bug. Should be working tomorrow.” (Reporting by Sheila Dang in Dallas; Additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin in San Francisco, Eva Mathews, Rhea Binoy and Sneha Bhowmik in Bengaluru; Editing by Nick Zieminski, Jonathan Oatis and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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