Twitter on Thursday evening banned the accounts of several high-profile journalists from major news organizations without explanation, apparently signaling a significant attempt by new owner Elon Musk to unilaterally wield his power over the platform.
Accounts belonging to CNN’s Donnie O’Sullivan, The New York Times’ Ryan Mack, The Washington Post’s Drew Harwell, and other journalists who have covered Musk aggressively in recent weeks, have all been abruptly suspended permanently. Progressive freelance journalist Arun Ropar’s account was also banned.
Neither Musk nor Twitter responded to a request for comment Thursday evening. The platform did not specifically explain why the journalists were being banished from the platform.
The ban has raised a number of questions about the future of the platform, which has been referred to as the Digital City Square. It also raised serious questions about Musk’s supposed commitment to free speech.
Musk has said repeatedly that he’d like to allow all legal speech on the platform; In April, the same day he announced he was buying Twitter, he had tweeted: “I hope my worst critics stay on Twitter, because that’s what freedom of speech is all about.”
Elon says he is an advocate of freedom of speech and bans journalists from exercising freedom of expression. “I think that calls into question his commitment,” Harwell told CNN on Thursday. Robar also said he had not heard “anything” from Twitter about the ban.
A CNN spokesperson said the company has asked Twitter for an explanation, and will “reassess our relationship based on this response.”
“The hasty and unwarranted comment by a number of reporters, including CNN’s Donnie O’Sullivan, is troubling but not surprising. The increasing instability and volatility of Twitter should be a major concern for everyone who uses Twitter,” the spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for The New York Times called the mass ban “questionable and unfortunate”, adding: “Neither the Times nor Ryan have received any explanation as to why this happened. We hope that all journalists’ accounts will be restored and that Twitter will provide a satisfactory explanation for this action.”
The suspensions come after Twitter shut down an account belonging to emerging rival Mastodon, also on Thursday.
Mastodon had tweeted earlier in the day that people could follow @ElonJet, the account that tracks Musk’s private jet on its platform, after the billionaire blocked @ElonJet from Twitter on Wednesday.
This Tweet may be in violation of the Twitter Rules. In his quest to rid Twitter of @ElonJet, Musk has introduced new policies banning accounts that track people’s live locations.
Musk has also banned any account from linking to such information, as Mastodon has done by linking to the account on its platform.
The move comes after Musk reinstated Twitter’s previous rules and stopped implementing the platform’s policies prohibiting misinformation about the Covid-19 virus.
Several banned journalists on Thursday covered the ban on Mastodon’s account, highlighting the irony of Musk’s alleged mission to promote free speech.
Harwell tweeted before deleting his account, referring to Jack Sweeney, a college student who runs @ElonJet.
CNN’s O’Sullivan was also covering the story, having interviewed Sweeney and his grandmother about the issue.
“I think this is very important for the potentially apocalyptic effect this could have on freelance journalists and journalists around the world, particularly those who cover other Elon Musk companies, like Tesla and SpaceX,” O’Sullivan told CNN Thursday after his account. It was broken.
As outrage spreads over the account’s suspension, some Twitter users reported that the platform began to interfere when they tried to post links to their profiles on alternative social networks, including Mastodon.
Those reports were confirmed Thursday night by a CNN reporter who was banned from sharing the URL of a Mastodon profile and given an automated error message saying that Twitter or its partners had identified the site as “potentially malicious.”
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