Elon Musk’s comment to reporters on Twitter sparked a global backlash
(Reuters) – Twitter’s unprecedented suspension of at least five journalists over allegations that they disclosed the real-time location of site owner Elon Musk drew a swift response from government officials, advocacy groups and press organizations around the world on Friday.
In a poll 24 hours later by Musk on Twitter about whether to restore journalists’ accounts, 58.7% of votes supported restoring them immediately.
A Reuters check showed that accounts were still suspended about 15 minutes after polls closed.
Twitter did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
The comment on Thursday night drew criticism from government officials, advocacy groups and press organizations in several parts of the world, with some saying the microblogging platform endangered press freedom.
Officials from France, Germany, Britain and the European Union condemned the comment.
The episode, dubbed the “Thursday Night Massacre” by a well-known security researcher, is seen by critics as fresh evidence of the billionaire, who considers himself a “speech mogul,” eliminating speech and users he personally hates.
Shares of Tesla (TSLA.O), the electric car maker led by Musk, fell 4.7% on Friday and posted its worst weekly loss since March 2020, as investors grew increasingly concerned about distraction from it and about a slowing global economy.
Roland Lescure, France’s industry minister, tweeted on Friday that after Musk suspended journalists, he would suspend his Twitter activity.
Melissa Fleming, the UN’s chief of communications, wrote on Twitter that she was “deeply disturbed” by the comment and that “media freedom is not a game”.
Germany’s Foreign Ministry has warned Twitter that the ministry has a problem with actions that threaten press freedom.
The comment stemmed from a dispute over a Twitter account called ElonJet, which had been tracking Musk’s private jet using publicly available information.
On Wednesday, Twitter suspended the account and others who had tracked the private jets, despite Musk’s previous tweet that said he would not suspend ElonJet in the name of freedom of speech.
Then on Thursday evening, several journalists, including from the New York Times, CNN and The Washington Post, were suspended from Twitter without warning.
“I understand that the focus seems to be mainly on journalists’ accounts, but we’ve applied the policy equally to journalists and non-journalists today,” Irwin said in the email.
The Association for the Advancement of Business Writing and Editing said in a statement Friday that Twitter’s actions “violate the spirit of the First Amendment and the principle that social media platforms will allow the unfiltered distribution of information already in the public arena.”
Musk accused the journalists of publishing his real-time location, the “assassination coordinates” for his family.
The billionaire appeared briefly in a Twitter Spaces audio chat hosted by reporters, which quickly turned into a contentious debate over whether the arrested journalists had actually exposed Musk’s real-time location in violation of policy.
“If you do that, you get suspended. End of story,” Musk said repeatedly in response to questions. “Dox” is a term for posting private information about someone, usually with malicious intent.
The Washington Post’s Drew Harwell, one of the journalists suspended but who was nonetheless able to join the voice chat, dismissed the notion that he had exposed Musk or his family’s exact location by posting a link to ElonJet.
Soon after, BuzzFeed reporter Katie Notopoulos, who hosted the Spaces chat, tweeted that the audio session was suddenly cut off and the recording was not available.
In a tweet explaining what happened, Musk said, “We’re fixing an old bug. Should work tomorrow.”
(Reporting by Sheila Dang in Dallas); Additional reporting by Hyunju Jin in San Francisco and Eva Matthews, Rhea Benoy and Sneha Bhumik in Bengaluru. Editing by Nick Zieminski, Jonathan Otis, and Muralikumar Anantharaman
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