The suspensions came without warning or initial explanation from Twitter. They came a day after Twitter changed its ‘live location information’ sharing policy and suspended an account, @ElonJet, which used public flight data to share the location of Musk’s private plane. .
Many of the suspended journalists on Thursday, including Washington Post tech reporter Drew Harwell, had covered that rule change, as well as Musk’s claims that he and his family had been put at risk by location sharing.
Twitter did not respond directly to questions about the suspensions. But Musk implied on Twitter, without evidence, that reporters revealed private information about his family, known as doxxing. Criticizing me all day is fine, but doxxing my location in real time and putting my family at risk is not. he tweeted late Thursday.
“Harwell was banned from Twitter without warning, process or explanation, following the publication of his accurate reporting on Musk,” Post editor Sally Buzbee said in a statement. “Our reporter should be reinstated immediately.”
At least eight other journalists were suspended the same evening, including New York Times technology reporter Ryan Mac.
CNN reporter Donie O’Sullivan was suspended shortly after posting a tweet about Musk’s claim that a “crazy stalker” chased his young son in Los Angeles, screenshots show.
Matt Binder, a reporter for Mashable, was tweeting about O’Sullivan’s suspension when his account also went dark.
Freelance journalist Tony Webster’s account was also suspended from Thursday evening. So were the accounts of former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann; Intercept reporter Micah Lee; Voice of America Chief National Correspondent Steve Herman; and Aaron Rupar, a Substack writer with nearly 800,000 Twitter followers.
“It is impossible to reconcile Twitter’s free speech aspirations with the purge of accounts of critical journalists,” American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said in a statement. “The First Amendment protects Musk’s right to do this, but this is a terrible decision. Their accounts must be restored immediately.
The account bans were tagged “Ella direction” in Twitter’s internal systems, according to two former employees in contact with Twitter staff. Ella Irwin, the company’s head of trust and safety, has carried out numerous orders from Musk since he bought the company in late October and began changing its rules on behalf of what he called freedom of speech”.
An earlier hanger was marked “Elon’s direction”.
Irwin said the Rod“Without commenting on any specific account, I can confirm that we will suspend any accounts that violate our privacy policies and put other users at risk.”
Musk tweeted Thursday evening that the suspensions would last for a week, although several journalists were told by Twitter that they were permanently banned. Later that night he took a Twitter poll on when he should restore the accounts – but restarted it after a plurality of respondents said he should do so immediately.
Musk also repeated his baseless allegation that reporters leaked private information about his family.
“The same doxxing rules apply to ‘journalists’ as everyone else,” he wrote in another tweet. “They displayed my exact position in real time, basically the coordinates of the assassination.”
At around 11:30 p.m. Thursday, Musk joined a Twitter Spaces chat — essentially a public conference call — with several reporters, including some who had been banned, in which he reiterated his claim that they had “doxed” him.
Journalists questioned him about it.
“You are suggesting that we share your address, which is not true,” Harwell said.
Musk shot back, “You posted a link to the address.”
Harwell replied, “During our reporting on @ElonJet, we posted a link to @ElonJet, which is no longer online.”
Musk left the call abruptly after about four minutes.
Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion in late October, and quickly moved to roll back many of the previous leadership’s policies against hate speech and misinformation. He moved to restore former president donald trump and other accounts suspended under the previous leadership, saying Twitter’s new policy is “freedom of speech but not freedom of access.”
But Musk’s Twitter already had ban some high level accounts ahead of Thursday’s apparent purge.
On Wednesday, @ElonJet was permanently suspended despite a tweet from Musk weeks earlier saying he would keep it as part of “my commitment to free speech”.
The same day, a new prohibited Twitter policy sharing “live location information, including information shared directly to Twitter or links to…travel directions, actual physical location, or other identifying information that would reveal the location of a person, whether such information is publicly available or not”.
Yet none of the suspended reporters’ tweets that The Post reviewed revealed the location of Musk or his family.
Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass) wrote on Twitter On Thursday evening, his staff had met with Twitter officials the same day. “They told us they would not retaliate against independent journalists or researchers who post reviews of the platform. Less than 12 hours later, several tech reporters were suspended.
The Committee to Protect Journalists denounced the suspensions in a statement:
“We are concerned by reports that journalists who have covered recent developments involving Twitter and its owner, Elon Musk, have had their accounts on the platform suspended. If confirmed to be retaliation for their work, it would be a serious violation of journalists’ right to report the news without fear of reprisal.
A New York Times spokesperson called the suspensions “questionable and unfortunate” in a statement late Thursday.
“Neither the Times nor Ryan have received an explanation as to why this happened,” said Charlie Stadtlander. “We hope that all journalists’ accounts will be restored and that Twitter will provide a satisfactory explanation for this action.”
In a company statement, CNN called the suspension of O’Sullivan and other journalists “impulsive and unwarranted” and said it asked Twitter for an explanation. “We will reassess our relationship based on that response.”
Faiz Siddiqui, Joseph Menn and Elahe Izadi contributed to this report.