Elon Musk’s commitment to free speech has fallen under severe scrutiny after the Twitter accounts of over half a dozen journalists, along with more than 25 private jet tracking profiles, were suspended Thursday evening, before being reinstated less than 48 hours later at the behest of a poll.
Twitter executives along with Musk himself have alleged that all of these profiles had violated the platform’s new policy against “doxxing,” which refers to the typically malicious practice of sharing of someone’s personal information, their home address in particular, online.
The new Twitter CEO referred to these details as “assassination coordinates” that placed both himself and his family in harm’s way.
Musk did not support this allegation with any evidence though, and no proof has since been found that the journalists posted live details regarding Musk’s whereabouts.
Writers for CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post are amongst those who found their accounts suspended last night in the round of blockings that a CNN spokesperson referred to as “impulsive and unjustified.”
Given that all of these journalists have recently covered Musk and his takeover, it is suspected that Musk took the opportunity – under the flimsy guise of ruling out “doxxing” – to cleanse his platform of those in most vocal opposition to him.
hard to believe there was once a time where they’d send a big yellow book to everyone’s house listing yours and everyone else’s assassination coordinates
— Sal Gentile (@salgentile) December 16, 2022
The CEO’s idyllic promise that under his leadership Twitter would resemble a “digital town square” with free speech as one of the highest priorities seems to be crumbling.
As the head of the American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Romero, has said, “it’s impossible to square Twitter’s free speech aspirations with the purging of critical journalists’ accounts.”
The unjust nature of these choices seems particularly pronounced given that Musk chose just weeks ago to unblock Donald Trump’s account, along with those of numerous white nationalists who had been removed from the platform for spouting hate speech.
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However, Musk’s decision to exercise his own judgement of what is and is not permitted under the right to free speech may soon face dire consequences.
In fact, European Commissioner Vera Jourova warned yesterday that should such actions continue into next year, when new EU rules protecting “respect of media freedom and fundamental rights” in the digital world come into effect, Musk will be met with sanctions.
The Committee to Protect Journalists similarly alluded to these choices backfiring, commenting that “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 UN’s Secretary-General Melissa Fleming has also asserted that “media freedom is not a toy” and the treatment of it as such has left her “deeply disturbed.”
Elon Musk just suspended a bunch of journalists, including Aaron Rupar, who cover him — without any reason. By silencing journalists, it’s clear that Elon Musk doesn’t care about free speech or democracy. He only cares about himself. We should all be outraged.
— Victor Shi (@Victorshi2020) December 16, 2022
The account named @Elonjet was amongst the plane tracking profiles also blocked on Thursday, along with several similar pages dedicated to following the planes of Russian oligarchs, tech billionaires, and government agencies.
This page, run by 20-year-old student Jack Sweeney, has amassed 500,000 followers by using publicly available flight data to share the current location of Elon Musk’s private jet.
Musk seems to have a constantly shifting stance regarding the @ElonJet account.
Earlier this year he offered Sweeney $5,000 to take the profile off-line, then following his purchase of Twitter in October he affirmed that he would keep the page up in accordance with his “commitment to free speech.”
Now, however, not only has was the page suspended under the app’s new location sharing restrictions, but Musk also banned Sweeney’s personal account and vowed to sue the student for putting him in danger.
The people have spoken.
Accounts who doxxed my location will have their suspension lifted now. https://t.co/MFdXbEQFCe
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 17, 2022
It has now been decided that the suspended accounts will be reinstated immediately, in line with the consensus of a Twitter poll posted by Musk.
The text accompanying this poll read “unsuspend accounts who doxxed my exact location in real-time” with the response options of now or in seven days.
This wording is obviously intended to vilify the journalists and plane trackers and sway the voters against their immediate reinstatement.
So, whilst it failed on this occasion, this should be recognised as Musk’s enforcement of his own agenda whilst maintaining appearances of giving power to the masses.
Despite preaching the importance of everyone being able to have their voices heard on the platform, in retracting this ability, albeit temporarily, from numerous users, Musk has shown that this access to free speech comes with necessary criteria, and that Twitter is as partial to the opinions of its leadership now as it ever has been.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Twitter app icon on smartphone screen. Featured Photo Credit: Yuri Samoilov.