Musk brought back some reporters on Twitter. But their companies did not leave.


When Twitter abruptly suspended the accounts of several high-profile journalists Thursday night — in response to a baffling claim from new owner Elon Musk that they had compromised his safety — media bosses scrambled to speak out in protest.

The New York Times called the comment “questionable”. CNN said it would re-evaluate its relationship with Twitter. The Washington Post demanded that Twitter restore the account of one of its technology correspondents “immediately,” noting that he simply reported Musk accurately. One news startup, Puck, has said it will suspend its paid Twitter advertising campaign, while another, Semafor, is evaluating its marketing push, according to a spokesperson.

But without exception, these media organizations kept tweeting at their usual busy times Thursday evening through Friday — using their official accounts to promote their latest stories.

Musk justified the suspension by accusing reporters of publishing “essentially assassination coordinates” for him and his family — a reference, apparently, to their reporting and tweets about Twitter’s decision to suspend the account, ElonJet, which was using public flight data to share the location of Musk’s private jet.

The Post found no evidence that the reporters in question shared information about Musk or the location of his family.

Early Saturday, after an informal Twitter poll conducted by Musk that said suspensions would be lifted immediately on “accounts that exposed my location,” several accounts of journalists resurfaced. However, the reaction epitomized the conflicting relationship, which appears to be co-dependent, between news media and social media.

In the 15 years since sites like Twitter and Facebook exploded in popularity, traditional news outlets have decided to see them as an opportunity as much as a threat — powerful new vectors to deliver news directly to the screens of eager readers. The publishers have invested heavily in staff whose primary role is to polish and promote stories across social media; Editors reward journalists who have amassed tens of thousands of followers on Twitter for the traffic they can bring to their sites.

Some managers are beginning to question whether Twitter traffic is actually worth the effort. However, the modest response on Friday to a maneuver that drew widespread rebuke from free speech advocates – as well as from the European Commission, the United Nations and members of Congress – suggests they will not abandon it soon.

“How do [else] Are they going to spread the word? Unfortunately, Twitter is still the only real game in town, said Vivian Schiller, the former president of NPR who also served as Twitter’s head of news in 2014. Until another social media platform comes along to rival it, she added.

At least nine journalists, including Washington Post technology reporter Drew Harwell and New York Times journalist Ryan Mack, were targeted for the comment, which the ACLU said was “impossible to reconcile with Twitter’s aspiration for free speech.”

Early Saturday, some of those accounts were back on, but others appeared to remain closed until the offending tweet was deleted.

“I don’t know why I was suspended, and I haven’t heard anything from Twitter,” Business Insider’s Lynette Lopez told The Post on Friday. Lopez indicated that she did not write or tweet about the controversy over Musk’s flight data but shared court documents indicating how Musk has harassed critics and revealed personal information about them in the past. Her account was still suspended early Saturday.

Freedom of speech has been a rallying cry for Musk, the billionaire owner of Tesla and SpaceX, since he first moved earlier this year to buy Twitter, subsequently rescinded several of the company’s previous policies against hate speech and misinformation, and stepped back. A nearly two-year ban for former President Donald Trump.

But even in conservative-leaning media, where Musk has been lauded for bringing back Trump and other right-wing accounts, the comment was not uniformly lauded.

On Friday morning, some hosts of the conservative Fox News talk show “Fox & Friends” expressed their bewilderment. “This is crazy,” said co-host Brian Kilmedy. “If only they were criticizing [Musk]”He should explain why these people are hanging,” co-host Steve Ducey said.

Ben Shapiro, the Daily Wire’s founding editor, admitted to some “schadenfreude” about journalists complaining about the move “given their enthusiasm for Twitter’s nebulous censorship” — but It seems to take the case With Musk arguing that the arrested journalists had already “cheated” his site. Fox News anchor and radio host Dan Bongino said on his show that he doesn’t agree with journalists’ accounts being censored or suspended, and he said it could have the effect of simply giving them more attention.

Some of the harshest criticism of Musk’s decision has come from an ally.

“The old system at Twitter was governed by its whims and biases and the new system certainly has the same problem,” tweeted Barry Weiss, a former New York Times op-ed writer. I oppose it either way. And I think those journalists who were reporting on a story of public interest should be reinstated.”

Weiss is one of the writers Musk recently hired to run the “Twitter Files” project, broadcasting internal Twitter documents about content moderation, as part of his larger campaign to establish that the company’s previous management unfairly dealt with a conservative news site. sand accounts.

Despite Musk claiming last month that Twitter is “by far the biggest driver of clicks on the internet,” a recent study from social analytics firm DataReportal found that it accounted for less than 8 percent of all social media referrals for the month of November 2021.

Media organizations do not usually share detailed data about their web traffic. But a 2016 report using data from social analytics firm found that only 1.5 percent of publishers’ traffic came from Twitter. A report from Nieman Lab concluded, “Twitter has a lot of impact, but it doesn’t drive much traffic for most news organizations.”

Meanwhile, media managers have grappled with how to set standards of conduct for journalists on social media, where the temptation can be to slip into conversation that is tougher, more informal, or more opinionated than is permissible in their professional writing — or to tailor their stories for audiences. their Twitter.

“The really insidious part of Twitter is that it’s so easy for even very good journalists to mistake the reaction they get on Twitter for the impact or reaction their reporting is having or their work in general,” said Joseph Kahn. , executive editor of The New York Times, in an interview with The Post in June.

Now, the unpredictability of Twitter under Musk’s ownership further complicates the equation for media heads.

“It’s a battle between reputational influence to support a volatile platform that simultaneously reinstates dangerous accounts while censoring legitimate journalists, and a journalist’s responsibility to remain active in order to balance misinformation and rampant disinformation,” said one network executive who spoke on condition. From anonymity in order to speak frankly.

There is precedent for leaving Twitter: Fox News allowed its official account to stop operating from November 2018 to March 2020, over concerns it shared a photo with host Tucker Carlson’s home address on the platform. According to metrics released by the network, it had no negative impact on Fox’s web traffic.

In mid-November, CBS News stepped away from Twitter for two days; One employee said the company was concerned that it no longer had an official liaison to help with security issues after the displacement of a senior employee under Musk.

For a brief moment on Friday, it seemed like a news organization was preparing for a boycott of sorts, when The New York Times announce that a debate scheduled for Spaces on Twitter that day about the best books of the year had been cancelled.

Instead, a Times spokesperson explained that the decision was made for “technical reasons”.

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