Overnight, at least nine journalists were banned from Twitter in a vivid demonstration that new owner Elon Musk views the idea of consistent, fair rules for everyone with nothing but contempt. Some of the journalists involved had been reporting on the earlier suspension of the ElonJet account, which posted already public information about the flight plans of his personal jet. Others posted a public statement from the LAPD concerning a claim of stalking that Elon had posted earlier on Thursday. And some had done little but note the suspension of their fellow journalists.
By the time the night was over, Musk had taken a series of actions that showed just how erratic, inconsistent, hypocritical, and thin-skinned the second-richest man on Earth really is. That included first trying to ignore the outcry, then openly lying about the reason the journalists had been removed in a way that was utterly bizarre. The journalists, according to Musk, had “posted my exact real time coordinates, basically assassination coordinates, in (obvious) direct violation of Twitter terms of service.” Not only had none of those involved done anything resembling Musk’s claim, but his interpretation would also have meant a banning for anyone who posted a celebrity spotting or an image of their surroundings.
In the chaos that followed, Musk posted one of his infamous, bot-dominated polls, then refused to honor the results of that poll when it called on him to immediately reinstate the suspended accounts. Finally, in a moment of jaw-dropping hubris, Musk stepped into a Twitter Spaces conversation between journalists, only to run away when confronted by one of those he had banned.
This is not a First Amendment issue. Twitter is Musk’s private property, and he has the right to burn his $44 billion almost any way he sees fit. But no one expected the bonfire of vanity to be quite this … bright really isn’t the word.
Those banned included popular substack author Aaron Rupar, Washington Post reporter Drew Harwell, New York Times reporter Ryan Mac, CNN reporter Donie O’Sullivan, Mashable reporter Matt Binder, independent journalist Tony Webster, Intercept reporter Micah Lee, Voice of America reporter Steve Herman, and former MSNBC host and sports journalist Keith Olbermann.
Several of these reporters had recently reported on Musk’s suspension of the ElonJet account and his filing of a court case against University of Central Florida student Jack Sweeney who created the account. All flight plans and statuses of private and commercial aircraft are public information in the United States. Posting of this information online has already been the subject of numerous legal cases, many involving third-party posting of airline data, with courts consistently ruling that there is no reason to block the posting of this public information.
Some of those banned had posted links to the ElonJet account on a server using the open-source social media platform Mastodon. Earlier on Thursday, Twitter blocked the account through which Mastodon helped new users locate a server and start a Mastodon account. This continued to escalate throughout the day, with Twitter first adding a content warning to any tweet that contained a Mastodon link, then went to hiding Mastodon content and making following a Mastodon link more difficult, and finally arriving at completely blocking embedded links to Mastodon accounts. As of this writing on Friday morning, an effort to inform other Twitter users of someone’s address on Mastodon is met with a warning reading, “Your Tweet could not be sent because this link has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially harmful.”
A number of those suspended on Thursday night had notably not posted links to, or recent tweets concerning, the ElonJet account. Instead, they had posted a public statement from the Los Angeles Police Department. That statement concerned a claim that Musk had made on Wednesday, in which he tried to defend the banning of the ElonJet account by claiming that a car in which his son was a passenger had been followed by a stalker. Musk also posted an image of what he claimed was the stalker vehicle. The incident reportedly occurred in an area not near any airport, and it’s unclear how it might be tied to the ElonJet account or to any flight. In fact, the reported incident took place on Tuesday night following a day in which the ElonJet account posted nothing at all on any platform.
The LAPD post contained no personal information about Musk or his family, and certainly didn’t give any “assassination coordinates.” However, it did cast doubt on Musk’s claims by making it clear that there had been no report of an actual crime made to the police. In spite of claims that the stalker had gone so far as “climbing onto the hood” of the car, neither Musk nor his security team had filed a report. In fact, contact was apparently initiated by the LAPD. Tesla vehicles have an extensive set of cameras and can provide recorded video from multiple directions following an accident or incident, so assuming the car in question was a Tesla, detailed video of events should have been available.
The only thing clear at this point is that Musk was loudly claiming that people had to be banned because there were direct threats against his family, he apparently didn’t consider any of those threats serious enough to take any action to stop them.
In what seems to be a security hole in Twitter, it turns out that those whose accounts are banned can still take part in chats on Twitter Spaces. Some of the journalists who were banned by Musk were taking part in one of these discussions when Musk himself decided to drop in, only to be sent running after repeating false claims of doxing.
Apparently, Elon Musk’s declaration that he’s a “free speech absolutist” does not extend to posting public information from government agencies, or public statements from the police—which is a pretty big limitation on journalists doing … journalism. It also doesn’t allow the posting of information about the fastest-growing competing platform. That’s absolutely not free speech.
Of course, Twitter is 100% Musk’s property, and as he’s repeatedly demonstrated, the rules are whatever he says, or doesn’t bother to say, at the moment. Nothing may demonstrate this more vividly that how Musk reacted to a poll that went the way he wanted …
And how Musk reacted to the poll he posted last night in which the vote weighed in on immediately reinstating the banned accounts.
In that first poll, Musk decided that the results were “the voice of god.” In last night’s poll, Musk suddenly found that voice from the burning bush confusing.
In any case, the outcry following the incident appears to have changed “permanent suspension” into Musk claiming later in the evening that the accounts were banned for one week. Later still, he complained that people were whining about a “one day suspension.” All of this happened without the accounts involved being sent anything either on why they had been suspended, or what steps might be taken to reinstate the account.
Overall, a night of Musk demonstrating that there are no rules. There’s just a ruler.
Twitter does have an established policy against sharing private information online, which rightly notes that “Sharing private information can pose serious safety and security risks for those affected and can lead to physical, emotional, and financial hardship.” However, flight information is not private information. If Musk wants to travel without it being public—or without it being obvious to tax authorities that this “Texas resident” spends almost all of his time in California—then he could travel by some way other than private jet. Maybe he can just hop on the nearest hyperloop.
It’s also worth noting that Twitter also has a rule stating, “You may not engage in the targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so.” That did not stop Musk from using the platform to accuse former Twitter head of trust and safety Yoel Roth of supporting pedophilia. Roth and his family were forced to flee their home. According to CNN, “threats made against the former Twitter employee escalated exponentially after Musk engaged in the pedophilia conspiracy theory.”
Jenifer Fernandez Ancona from Way to Win is our guest on this week’s Daily Kos’ The Brief. When we spoke with Jenifer back in April, she was right about Democratic messaging—and had the data to prove it. More election data has been rolling in from the midterms, and Jenifer is back to talk about what worked and what needs to change in order for the Democratic Party to keep winning.