UN warns Twitter’s suspension of journalists sets ‘dangerous precedent’

A UN spokesperson said the UN is “deeply disturbed” by Twitter’s sudden suspension of a group of US journalists, warning that the move sets a “dangerous precedent” – the EU has said the social media platform could conflict with upcoming digital regulations.

Stephane Dujarric said on Friday that the United Nations is “deeply disturbed” by the ban on high-profile technology correspondents at news organizations including CNN, the Washington Post and the New York Times who have written about Musk and his tech company.

Dujarric said the media should not be silenced on a platform that has claimed to be a haven for free speech. “This step sets a dangerous precedent at a time when journalists around the world face censorship, physical threats, and worse,” he told reporters.

The German government said press freedom should not be turned on and off “on a whim” and Downing Street also raised concerns about the suspension.

The EU warning came from Věra Jourová, the European Commission’s Vice President for Values ​​and Transparency, who tweeted that “the news about the arbitrary suspension of journalists on Twitter is alarming” and said the economic bloc’s Digital Services Act (DSA) requires platforms to respect media freedom. Its provisions include a provision that when sanctioning users and content, it must be “in a diligent and proportionate manner, with due regard for fundamental rights”.

This is reinforced by our Media Freedom Act. Elon Musk should be aware of this. There are red lines. Sanctions are coming soon,” she said. DSA infractions, which come into force for major tech companies next year, carry the risk of fines of up to 6% of global sales volume or temporary suspension in extreme cases. The European Media Freedom Act, which also deals with operating platforms Technology, it is currently in draft form.

A spokesperson for the UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, said that tech companies must “balance protecting their users while preserving freedom of expression”. The German government tweeted screenshots of the affected accounts and said it had a “problem” with the suspensions. The German Foreign Ministry wrote on Twitter: “Press freedom cannot be turned on and off on a whim. Journalists below can no longer follow us, comment on us or criticize us. We have a problem with that, @Twitter.”

# Freedom of the press It should not be turned on and off at will. As of today, the journalists below can no longer follow, comment, or criticize us. We have a problem with that @Twitter. pic.twitter.com/Cliuih8Gyq

– German Foreign Ministry (AuswaertigesAmt) December 16, 2022

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A Sunak spokesperson added that the UK’s upcoming online safety bill would prevent large platforms such as Twitter from suspending users if they do not breach the company’s terms of service, thus preventing “arbitrary” decisions on freedom of expression online.

However, Musk’s suspension to the group of tech journalists on Thursday was for breaching new user guidelines about disclosing people’s locations, which had been established the day before.

He claimed they violated the rule, which bars users from posting “live location information” that would “reveal a person’s location, regardless of whether that information is publicly available.” Journalists had recently published articles about Musk’s suspension of a Twitter account that shared publicly available data about the movements of his private jet. News articles published by several reporters before their accounts were suspended did not include information about his real-time location, or the location of any of his family members.

The Guardian has reached out to Twitter for comment.

Campaign groups have also condemned the suspension. The Center Against Digital Hate said Musk “doesn’t understand the difference between the public interest and his own” and was seeking to fire journalists who criticize him rather than address dangerous hate speech, while the open rights group urged journalists to create accounts on rival platform Mastodon.

First Amendment campaign group Pen America said that since Musk bought the company in October, he has treated Twitter “more like a personal fiefdom than a global public arena.”

CNN, The Washington Post, and The New York Times criticized the journalists’ comment, with CNN saying the moves were an “incredible concern” for anyone using the platform.

At a Twitter Spaces event held after the suspension was announced, Musk was questioned about the ban by some journalists whose accounts had been suspended. He said that journalists are not treated differently from other citizens. “If you do doxx, you get suspended. That is it. End of story,” he said, using the term for sharing someone’s personal information online without permission. The space was then completely deleted by Twitter, with the host calling off mid-sentence.

Meanwhile, as Musk’s team tried to prevent further discussion of his private jet’s movements, the ban escalated. First, Mastodon’s Twitter account was banned after it posted a link to an ElonJet mirror — the now-banned account is in the midst of a wave of suspensions. Links to individual Mastodon users were subsequently blocked after they shared details of Musk’s private jet.

Then, links to entire Mastodon servers were blocked, starting with the largest versions of the “unified” social network including Mastodon.social, then spreading to smaller and smaller instances like infosec.exchange for cybersecurity professionals and journa.host, a media server only.

A few hours later, Twitter started blocking users from adding their Mastodon usernames to their profiles. Users attempting to post links to those sites were given a warning that the link had been “identified by Twitter or our partners as potentially harmful”.

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