Inferse: Journalist Who Won’t Delete Musk Tweets Remain Locked Out of Twitter
This article features Government Accountability Project whistleblower client, Steve Herman, and was originally published here.
Twitter owner Elon Musk said last week that the journalists he abruptly suspended for alleged rule violations were welcome to rejoin the platform after only two days on the sidelines. “The people have spoken,” he tweeted following a poll that strongly favored restoring the accounts.
But Musk didn’t mention that there was a catch.
Twitter has privately demanded that the suspended journalists delete the tweets that drew Musk’s ire in the first place — a condition the reporters have refused to accept.
The result is a stalemate: The suspended journalists remain in Twitter purgatory, unable to access their accounts.
The tweets in question mentioned or linked to a Twitter account called @ElonJet, which tracked the whereabouts of Musk’s private jet using publicly available flight data. All of the journalists were covering or commenting on Musk’s decision to banish the account, which he said threatened his family’s safety by tracking his movements.
None of the journalists’ tweets about @ElonJet, however, disclosed information about Musk or his jet’s location, despite Musk’s claim that the journalists had posted “assassination coordinates.”
The reporters maintain that their tweets were part of their reporting activities and didn’t violate any rules about “doxing,” the unsavory practice of posting personal information without permission. Accepting Musk’s demand for deletion, they say, would amount to a false admission of wrongdoing and an abdication to Musk’s subjective enforcement. They remain suspended.
“The rules are arbitrary and capricious,” said Steve Herman, Voice of America’s chief national correspondent, who has rejected Twitter’s call to delete three tweets mentioning the jet account. “They appear to be based on the whims of the owner of the platform.”
Similarly, Washington Post reporter Drew Harwell, Ryan Mac of the New York Times, Donie O’Sullivan of CNN, Susan Li of Fox Business and Micah Lee of the Intercept, among others, remain sidelined for their refusal to remove tweets at Twitter’s insistence. Although their accounts aren’t marked as suspended and appear to be active, they have in fact been locked out since Twitter acted against them eight days ago.
Harwell, for one, said he has no intention of deleting a flagged tweet, which referenced Musk’s suspension of a Twitter competitor, Mastodon, over its link to its version of @ElonJet. “Hell, no. I’m not deleting a tweet that contained factual information and didn’t violate anyone’s rules,” he said.
He added, “It’s his platform. He can ban anyone he wants. And we can point out how he’s making up pretextual rules that just so happen to target journalism he doesn’t like.”
Twitter did not return a request for comment.
O’Sullivan was suspended for a tweet similar to the one that landed Harwell in a Twitter timeout. O’Sullivan said Thursday his tweet was a legitimate piece of news and contained no personal or location information.
“Musk owns the platform,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s fully entitled to ban any of us. But it’s all a bit rich coming from a so-called free-speech absolutist,” as Musk has referred to himself.
Lee wrote about his suspension in the Intercept, saying he filed an appeal rather than delete his tweet because “I didn’t want to bend the knee to the Mad King of Twitter.” After two days, he wrote, he received a reply from Twitter saying it would not overturn the decision.
In response, Lee wrote that he didn’t plan “on submitting to Musk’s petty demands.”
Despite the reporter bans, some news organizations continue to advertise on Twitter.
Musk unsuspends some reporters on Twitter. But their companies never left.
Aaron Rupar, an independent journalist, had his account reinstated after he agreed to Twitter’s demand that he delete a tweet linking to @ElonJet’s Facebook page.
Rupar said he didn’t think the tweet violated any rules, but he weighed the platform’s demand against the prospect of being cut off indefinitely from his 836,000 followers.
“I don’t plan to quit Twitter,” he said via Twitter direct message on Friday. “That would be tough for me right now as an independent journalist who has worked hard to develop a big following” on Twitter.
“I have mixed feelings, for sure,” he added. “It doesn’t make Twitter feel like a welcoming place …[Musk] owns the place and if he wants to push reporters around, that’s his prerogative, but I think the backlash speaks for itself.”
Since purchasing Twitter for $44 billion in late October, Musk has fired thousands of employees, including those who moderate posts for hate speech and misinformation. He has restored former president Donald Trump’s suspended account and others suspended under prior management, saying Twitter’s new policy is “freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach.”
He said this week he would step down and seek a new chief executive to run Twitter following the results of another poll he conducted himself.
Musk says he’ll find new Twitter CEO but keep control of key divisions
Musk’s erratic management of the platform has delighted some on the extreme right but has alarmed many advertisers and media advocates.
A Washington watchdog group called the Government Accountability Project on Thursday urged House and Senate committees to review Twitter’s suspension of the journalists: “Plainly, Mr. Musk has abused his authority by acting arbitrarily and capriciously. All of this is disturbing.”