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Amid backlash and accusations of press freedom violations, Twitter reinstated the accounts of several journalists suspended earlier this week.
On Thursday evening, the social media platform suspended several journalists who had tweeted or written about Elon Musk’s ownership of the company.
Accounts that went dark included CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan; Ryan Mac from The New York Times; Drew Harwell from The Washington Post; Micah Lee of The Intercept; and journalist Aaron Rupar.
On Friday night, Musk put the decision on whether or not to reinstate the suspended accounts to a public vote. He tweeted an informal poll that asked Twitter users to choose when to “reactivate accounts that doxxed my exact location in real time.”
According to the poll, 58.7% of voters favored lifting the suspensions immediately compared to 41.3% of respondents who said Musk should wait seven more days.
Rupar, whose account was reinstated on Friday, said the suspensions signaled Twitter’s instability.
“It’s a clear illustration that this is no longer a rules-based business,” Rupar told NPR. “It’s basically a whimsical business of Elon Musk and the terms of service depend on his mood every day.”
Joan Donovan, research director at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, thinks this week’s wave of suspensions is just the beginning.
“The way Musk is targeting particular mainstream journalists, I think we’re going to see more of these shenanigans, not less, over the next two months,” she told NPR’s Michel Martin on All things Considered.
NPR reached out to Twitter and Musk but did not receive a response.
It all started with an aircraft tracking Twitter account
Before suspending the journalists’ accounts, Musk challenged several accounts that tracked the movement of private jets used by billionaires, government officials and others.
Musk was particularly concerned about the jet-tracking account, @ElonJet, run by a 20-year-old University of Central Florida student, which Musk said was used by a “crazy stalker” in Los Angeles to follow one of Musk’s children.
Reporters who tweeted or wrote about Musk’s breakup with the account later found themselves suspended.
Musk, a self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist”, denied accusations that the suspensions were in retaliation for critical coverage. Instead, he argued that the accounts constituted a “breach of physical security” and could lead to “doxxing”, or the sharing of personal information to abet stalkers.
“Putting me down all day is totally okay, but doxxing my position in real time and putting my family at risk is not,” Musk said. tweeted Thursday evening.
Musk’s crackdown has been condemned by the UN and EU
A number of organizations around the world have criticized Musk’s apparent silence on high profile journalists on Twitter.
Melissa Fleming, the UN’s under-secretary-general for global communications, said she was “deeply troubled” by the suspensions.
“Media freedom is not a toy. A free press is the cornerstone of democratic societies and a key tool in the fight against harmful disinformation,” Fleming said. tweeted Friday.
Věra Jourová, Vice-President of the European Commission, warned Twitter against the potential violation of the Digital Services Act and the Freedom of the Media Act of the European Union.
“There are red lines. And sanctions, soon,” said Jourová tweeted Friday.
The suspensions have also sparked outrage from several news agencies who are demanding an explanation as to why their journalists were temporarily banned.
“Twitter’s growing instability and volatility should be of incredible concern to anyone using the platform,” CNN said in a statement. statement Thursday. “We will reassess our relationship based on that response.”
For Rupar, although he was initially worried about the negative impact of the Twitter ban on his career, the opposite turned out to be true.
“The consequences for me have been quite positive overall,” he said.
In the hours following his suspension, Rupar said he received an onslaught of support and a mass of followers on his new Mastodon account — which he plans to use more frequently.
“Even though I’m back on Twitter, in light of this experience, it seems like a good time to spend more energy developing a sequel elsewhere,” Rupar said.