January 31, 2023

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Elon Musk re-enabled Twitter accounts for several journalists banned over @ElonJet

4 min read

Elon Musk has started to lift the suspensions of some journalists on Twitter after re-running a poll asking if he should “Unsuspend accounts who doxxed my exact location in real-time.” (The journalists did not reveal his real-time location.) Out of the two poll options, “now” won with 58.7 percent of the responses, beating “in 7 days.” There were almost 3.7 million responses to the poll.

Journalists from a variety of outlets, including The New York Times, CNN, NBC, The Intercept, and more, had their accounts suspended on Thursday, most of them after tweeting about @ElonJet, a Twitter account that tracked the SpaceX-owned private jet Elon Musk uses, based on publicly available FAA flight tracking data. The ElonJet account was suspended from Twitter prior to the strike against the other accounts but survives on other platforms (which is potentially the reason you can’t tweet a link to many instances of Mastodon, a decentralized Twitter alternative).

At this time of writing, the accounts belonging to Linette Lopez and @ElonJet still remain suspended. Meanwhile, the accounts for CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, The New York Times’ Ryan Mac, The Washington Post’s Drew Harwell, Mashable’s Matt Binder, The Intercept’s Micah Lee, and the @JoinMastodon account are once again visible on the platform.

Shortly after reinstating these accounts, Musk also suspended The Washington Post reporter Taylor Lorenz after she reached out to Musk for comment on a story. Her last tweet was a reply to Musk’s post about a “violent stalker” he says followed his family, and read: “Hi Elon, @drewharwell and I sent you a couple emails about this. We’ve learned some information that we’d like to share and discuss with you. We’re taking this very seriously and want to ensure this is pursued in the right way. Thanks.”

In an update shared on Lorenz’s Substack newsletter, she says she “received zero communication from the company” on why she was suspended. “My colleague Drew Harwell, who has also been suspended, and I have been working on a story involving Musk and were hoping to get comment from him,” Lorenz writes. “When I went to log in and see if he had responded to our query, I was suspended.”

Musk has announced that “accounts who doxxed my location will have their suspension lifted now. This week, Twitter updated its policy to ban sharing “live location information,” as well as “links to 3rd-party URL(s) of travel routes.”

At the time the journalists were initially suspended, Twitter head of trust and safety Ella Irwin told The Verge: “We don’t make exceptions to this policy for journalists or any other accounts.” Musk also made his feelings on the matter clear with the language of his poll, and through various followup tweets. He also implied that the flight tracker had some connection to a “crazy stalker” who encountered a car that was carrying one of his children, and that the person “blocked car from moving & climbed onto hood.” However, the LAPD says no crime report has been filed about such an incident, according to the Los Angeles Times.

After the suspensions, Musk ran a 30-minute long poll asking when he should unsuspend the journalists. “Now” won that poll as well, garnering 43 percent of responses, but Musk said he would redo it because it had “too many options.”

On Thursday, Musk also attended a Twitter Space hosted by Buzzfeed News’ Katie Notopoulos, which was also attended by several of the suspended journalists, who had apparently been allowed to join due to a technical glitch. Before leaving the call, Musk said “you dox, you get suspended. End of story, that’s it.” Twitter later turned off the Spaces feature. While it’s since been restored, Notopoulos says she’s unable to start or join a Space, receiving a message saying “you can’t participate or go live because you violated the Twitter Rules” when she tries.

Hours before the poll was completed and the accounts were reinstated, Musk declared today “freedom Friday” in response to former congressional candidate Lavern Spicer’s comment that accounts were being reinstated at an increasingly fast pace. Several prominent right-to-far-right figures were unsuspended on Friday, including MyPillow founder Mike Lindell and Gateway Pundit editor Jim Hoft, as noted by Shayan Sardarizadeh, a reporter for the BBC. This appears to be part of Musk making good on his promise to give most previously-suspended accounts “general amnesty,” which he also claims is occurring due to the results of a poll.

On Friday evening, the Twitter Safety account tweeted that the company had “identified several policies where permanent suspension was a disproportionate action for breaking Twitter rules” and that it would be reinstating accounts on a weekly basis over the next 30 days. It’s unclear if the tweet was an announcement regarding Musk’s general amnesty poll, or the people banned based on the new live tracking policy. Musk has said that there is a “7 day suspension for doxxing,” though some of the people affected by the ElonJet suspensions posted screenshots of the Twitter UI that said they were permanently suspended.

Update, December 18th, 9:43AM ET: Updated to note that Taylor Lorenz has now been suspended from the platform.