Musk’s comment to reporters on Twitter drew US and international condemnation


US and international officials condemned Twitter and Elon Musk on Friday after the social media company abruptly suspended several US journalists, expressing concern about retaliation and the potentially horrific impact on freedom of expression.

The moves have drawn a sharp rebuke from government officials at the European Commission and the United Nations and criticism from a US senator. Even some of Musk’s supporters, who advocate for a broad interpretation of free speech, seemed surprised at the U-turn.

The fate of the accounts — which Musk said were suspended for posting location data in violation of the new rules — could be resolved by late Friday, when a Twitter poll on their immediate reinstatement was due to be completed, or within seven days. The so far unscientific poll tends to recalculate immediately, though it’s not clear if Musk would do so given that he nullified the results of a similar poll the night before. He has already returned accounts after such surveys.

The accounts suspended include ElonJet, which tracks the location of Musk’s private jet through the use of publicly available data, as well as other accounts that track the locations of helicopters and airplanes. Twitter suspended the accounts of several journalists Thursday night, including those from The Washington Post, New York Times and CNN.

Musk later accused reporters of publishing “assassination coordinates” for him and his family — though he offered no evidence that any of the journalists did.

Also on Friday, the account of Lynette Lopez, a journalist who wrote criticism of Musk and Tesla, was suspended. It was not immediately clear why the suspension.

Musk acquired Twitter in a $44 billion deal in late October, vowing to make the site a haven for “free speech,” which delighted some right-wing politicians and pundits who have accused social media companies, often without foundation, of censoring them in recent years.

Musk’s brief stint at the helm of the company has been marked by turbulence. He wiped out Twitter’s workforce, dissolved an external trust and safety board, and reinstated several banned accounts, including that of former President Donald Trump.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Raw) tweeted in defense of the reporters on Friday, saying Musk’s actions “are a Twitter fast-track getting old.”

European Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova, whose briefing on the rule of law and disinformation includes, tweeted that “the arbitrary suspension of journalists on Twitter is troubling.”

The EU Digital Services Act requires respect for media freedom and fundamental rights. This is what is being promoted under the #MediaFreedomAct framework. “elonmusk should realize that. There are red lines and penalties, soon.”

Twitter and Musk did not respond to a request for comment on the European officials’ warnings.

On December 15th, Elon Musk, CEO of Twitter, joined a Twitter Spaces chat with several journalists where he reiterated his claim that they had “cheated” him. (Video: The Washington Post)

The suspension came a day after Twitter changed its rules to prohibit sharing “live location information” or other information that might show someone’s location.

Several journalists who were covering and tweeting about the rule change and Musk’s allegations were subsequently banned from their accounts.

Musk bans the Twitter account that tracks his plane and threatens to sue the creator

The EU’s Digital Services Act seeks to force tech companies to more check their platforms for illegal content and be more transparent about how their content moderation systems operate. Companies will need to start reporting some information early next year, but the legislation won’t take full effect until 2024.

The European Union has often imposed stricter rules and cracked down on technology companies than other governments. The DSA is one of the most extensive regulations on social media to date. Musk met with Thierry Breton, commissioner of internal markets in the bloc, about Twitter preparing the law.

But the billionaire also dismantled much of Twitter’s trust and safety team, helping to craft and enforce the rules users must follow on the site.

Further criticism came on Friday from the German Foreign Ministry, which took to Twitter to warn the company that it takes press freedom seriously.

“Freedom of the press is not to be turned on and off at will,” she tweeted. “As of today, journalists below can no longer follow us, comment on us, or criticize us. We have an issue with Twitter.”

Musk’s tenure has been defined by ad hoc decision-making, failed product launches, and a general erosion of Twitter’s relaxed workplace culture. Key decisions were made between Musk and a trusted group of allies, including his personal lawyer, friends, investors, and the billionaire’s loyal deputies.

Musk’s erratic decision-making has been paired with controversial tweets, a sharp challenge to the arbiter role that some — including investors — believe the CEO of a social media site should play. Early after taking office, Musk sent out a tweet disputing the official story of the attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, defending the conspiracy theory from a fringe far-right position. Musk has called for infectious disease expert Anthony S. Fauci to be prosecuted, alarming some — including Tesla fans and shareholders — who believe he should not stir up the political debate.

Advertisers have expressed uncertainty about Twitter’s direction under Musk, and civil rights leaders have called on them to pause spending on the site.

Meanwhile, Twitter users noted on Friday that another popular account is no longer active. Helicopters from the capital, which follows the movement of helicopters over the capital, seems to have been suspended.

A message on her page read, “Account Suspended” and cited violations of the Twitter Rules.

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