Elon Musk’s much vaunted commitment to free speech on Twitter appears to be crumbling after he suspended the accounts of several journalists who had written extensively about the technology firm.
Mr Musk had accused the journalists of sharing his “real time location”. But the reporters – from news outlets such as CNN and the New York Times – have denied the accusation.
Now the European Union and the United Nations have become involved warning Mr Musk about “arbitrarily” suspending journalists with Twitter warned it could face unspecified sanctions.
The BBC’s technology editor Zoe Kleinman said that the suspensions bring into question how wedded Mr Musk is to the idea of free speech.
“Fundamentally, Elon Musk has shot down in flames his much-trumpeted commitment to ‘free speech’.
“Free speech as long as it doesn’t upset him personally, appears to be the message,” she said.
Mr Musk bought Twitter for $66 billion ($US44bn) in October.
His latest Twitter drama began on Wednesday when an account called @ElonJet was suspended.
Created by Florida teen Jack Sweeney, the account used publicly available information to send tweets when Mr Musk’s private jet was in the air. There was no information about whether Mr Musk was on any of the flights.
Mr Sweeney’s account was also suspended as were a number of other accounts that tracked private jets belonging to prominent people.
Twitter then hastily changed its terms of service to state that it would bar users that shared live location information of others apparently in an attempt to retroactively justify the account suspensions.
As CEO and owner of Twitter, Mr Musk can make decisions about who is and isn’t on Twitter.
But the suspension appears to run contrary to various statements Mr Musk has made about free speech and Twitter.
Indeed, in November he said his “commitment to free speech extends even to not banning the account following my plane, even though that is a direct personal safety risk”.
That sentiment has changed.
People keen to know where Mr Musk’s or other jets are can still do so – just on other websites and social media platforms. So the suspension from Twitter has not stopped the location of Mr Musk’s jet being available.
Musk’s assassination fears
Mr Musk has regularly said he fears for his life. In early December, he claimed the risk of his assassination was “quite significant”.
“It’s not that hard to kill somebody if you wanted to, so hopefully they don’t. There’s definitely some risk there.”
On Wednesday, Mr Musk posted a video of a man in a car in Los Angeles asking “anyone recognise this person or car?”
He claimed his son X was being followed by a “crazy stalker (thinking it was me)”. Mr Musk then referenced Mr Sweeney, but there was no evidence the person supposedly following the car with his child in had looked at the @ElonJet account.
Then Twitter suspended the accounts of CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, The New York Times’ Ryan Mac and The Washington Post’s Drew Harwell among others after they reported on the private jet brouhaha.
On Thursday evening Mr Musk unexpectedly dropped into a Twitter Spaces online forum which included journalists who quizzed him on the suspensions.
“Showing real time information about someone’s location is inappropriate … you doxx you get suspended. End of story.”
However, none of the reporters suspended had revealed the real time location of Mr Musk or his jet. But they did include links to the now defunct @ElonJet account and some articles had links to an aircraft tracking website.
After being pushed to further explain why he had selected those journalists for suspension, all of who have written heavily about Mr Musk and Twitter, the CEO left the chat and then shortly afterwards the entire forum was deleted.
Mr Musk has since tweeted asking his followers when he should unsuspend “accounts who doxxed my exact location in real-time”. As such it seems likely they will be reinstated.
Some have noted that Mr Musk seems to have different standards when it comes to his privacy and safety and others.
For instance, he seemed to have no qualms sharing a picture of the man in the car he claimed was following his son including personal information such as the car’s licence plate. Information that could be used to locate and target him.
But website Insider reported that Mr Musk had not filed a police report on the alleged stalking incident.
And on the weekend, Mr Musk highlighted a tweet about the academic research of Twitter’s former head of trust and safety Yoel Roth which found that some users of hook up apps are under age.
Mr Roth has now said he has been forced to flee his home following Mr Musk’s tweet, and the release of files from his time at the company, after he received multiple threats including baseless accusations he was sympathetic to paedophilia.
EU, UN warn Musk
In a statement, CNN said: “The impulsive and unjustified suspension of a number of reporters, including CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, is concerning but not surprising.
“Twitter’s increasing instability and volatility should be of incredible concern for everyone who uses Twitter”.
The Washington Post’s Drew Harwell, one of the suspended journalists, said: “Elon says he is a free speech champion and he is banning journalists for exercising free speech.
“I think that calls into question his commitment.”
The United Nations’ under secretary-general for global communications Melissa Fleming said she was “deeply disturbed” by the suspensions.
“Media freedom is not a toy. A free press is the cornerstone of democratic societies and a key tool in the fight against harmful disinformation.”
The EU’s commissioner for values and transparency Vera Jourova tweeted on Friday that Mr Musk could be in breach of the bloc’s rules.
“The EU’s Digital Services Act requires respect of media freedom and fundamental rights. This is reinforced under our Media Freedom Act.
“Elon musk should be aware of that. There are red lines. And sanctions, soon.”