Twitter on Thursday suspended the accounts of journalists who cover the social media platform and its new owner Elon Musk, including reporters working for The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and other publications.
The company hasn’t explained to the journalists why it took down the accounts and made their profiles and past tweets disappear. But Musk took to Twitter on Thursday night to accuse journalists of sharing private information about his whereabouts, which he described as “basically assassination co-ordinates.” He provided no evidence for that claim.
Independent journalist Aaron Rupar was one of those who found themselves banned from the platform.
“I was playing on the floor of our condo with my seven-month-old [baby] yesterday evening and started getting messages from people saying ‘Oh my goodness, your Twitter account has been suspended,'” he told CBC News in an interview.
Rupar, who had hundreds of thousands of followers on the platform, says he was surprised he was not given any notification or warning from Twitter before the ban.
“I was left to do reporting on my own to figure out what happened and it turned out I was part of a larger group of journalists critical of Elon who were banned.”
WATCH: Aaron Rupar describes how he found out he was banned from Twitter
The sudden suspension of news reporters appears to be sparked by a decision by Musk to shut down an account that tracks in real-time the location of his private jet.
Musk says members of his family were accosted by a stalker on the streets of Los Angeles this week, which prompted his crackdown. “They posted my exact real-time location, basically assassination coordinates, in (obvious) direct violation of Twitter terms of service,” he tweeted.
The common thread between the journalist accounts banned on Thursday evening appears to be that they all made reference to the jet-tracking account in recent days.
Rupar says the jet-tracking account was only posting information that was already publicly available anyway, and he is overreacting to his critics on the platform under the guise of security.
“It’s not like this is some sort of stalker account or using information that can’t be found by anyone,” Rupar said.
Twitter also on Wednesday changed its terms of service to prohibit the sharing of another person’s current location without their consent, or sharing images of other people without their consent.
“Same doxxing rules apply to ‘journalists’ as to everyone else,” Musk tweeted Thursday. He later added: “Criticizing me all day long is totally fine, but doxxing my real-time location and endangering my family is not.”
Doxing refers to disclosing online someone’s identity, address, or other personal details.
The official account for Mastodon, a decentralized social network billed as an alternative to Twitter, was also banned. The reason was unclear, though it had tweeted about the jet tracking account. The person behind the jet account has opened an account on Mastodon, doing the same thing his other accounts were doing — giving live updates on the whereabouts of Musk’s jet, based on publicly available FAA data.
CNN, Post call actions unjustified
The Washington Post’s executive editor, Sally Buzbee, called for technology reporter Drew Harwell’s Twitter account to be reinstated immediately. The suspension “directly undermines Elon Musk’s claim that he intends to run Twitter as a platform dedicated to free speech,” Buzbee wrote. “Harwell was banished without warning, process or explanation, following the publication of his accurate reporting about Musk.”
Accounts engaged in doxxing receive a temporary 7 day suspension
CNN said in a statement that “the impulsive and unjustified suspension of a number of reporters, including CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, is concerning but not surprising.”
“Twitter’s increasing instability and volatility should be of incredible concern for everyone who uses Twitter,” CNN’s statement added. “We have asked Twitter for an explanation, and we will reevaluate our relationship based on that response.”
Another suspended journalist, Matt Binder of the technology news outlet Mashable, said he was banned Thursday night immediately after sharing a screenshot that O’Sullivan had posted before the CNN reporter’s suspension.
The screenshot showed a statement from the Los Angeles Police Department sent earlier Thursday to multiple media outlets, including The Associated Press, about how it was in touch with Musk’s representatives about the alleged stalking incident, but that no crime report had yet been filed.
“I did not share any location data, as per Twitter’s new terms. Nor did I share any links to ElonJet or other location tracking accounts,” Binder said in an email. “I have been highly critical of Musk but never broke any of Twitter’s listed policies.”
Binder said a message he received while trying to access his Twitter account showed that his suspension was permanent. But Musk later suggested the penalty would last a week in response to a question about his suspension of former ESPN and MSNBC host Keith Olbermann.
Late Thursday, Musk briefly joined a Twitter Spaces conference chat hosted by journalist Kate Notopoulos of Buzzfeed. He reiterated his claims that the journalists Twitter banned were “doxxing” him when they were reporting on the jet tracking accounts being banned.
“There is not special treatment for journalists,” Musk said, after being asked by the Post’s Drew Harwell if he had a connection between the stalking incident and posting of real-time information.
“You dox, you get suspended, end of story,” he added, before abruptly signing out.
Front Burner22:24Elon Musk’s Twitter culture war
The suspensions come as Musk makes major changes to content moderation on Twitter.
He has tried, through the release of selected company documents dubbed as “The Twitter Files,” to claim the platform suppressed right-wing voices. He had promised to let free speech reign, but indicated he would take measures not to amplify misinformation.
Condemnation from EU commissioner
The nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists, which defends journalists around the world, said Thursday night it was concerned about the suspensions.
“If confirmed as retaliation for their work, this would be a serious violation of journalists’ right to report the news without fear of reprisal,” the group said.
European Union Commissioner Vera Jourova, who heads up the 27-nation bloc’s work on values and transparency, also weighed in.
“News about arbitrary suspension of journalists on Twitter is worrying,” she tweeted. Existing EU media rules and new digital regulations taking effect next year require “respect of media freedom and fundamental rights.”
Jourova said, “(at)elonmusk should be aware of that. There are red lines. And sanctions, soon.”