Elon Musk's journalist ban on Twitter draws global condemnation

Reporters from The Washington Post, The New York Times, Mashable and CNN have been suspended

Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Elon Musk's decision to ban at least five journalists drew global backlash on Friday, with organisations from the UN to the EU weighing in on the unprecedented action.

On Thursday, reporters from publications including The Washington Post, The New York Times, Mashable and CNN were listed as blocked and their tweets were no longer visible.

Mr Musk said the suspended profiles, which included well-known sports and political commentator Keith Olbermann, belonged to people who had posted his real-time location, describing the information as “basically assassination co-ordinates”.

The move comes after Mr Musk said a person had stalked his young son and after a disagreement over a Twitter account called ElonJet, which tracked Mr Musk's private plane using publicly available information.

But officials said Twitter's actions under Mr Musk, a self-proclaimed "free speech absolutist", risk press freedom in America, while critics saw the move as evidence he is policing points of view he dislikes.

In the US, freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment, but private companies such as Twitter are under no legal obligation to publish content.

At the US State Department, spokesman Vedant Patel said it was “difficult to square how these removals are consistent with promoting free exchange".

“Social media companies make their own independent decisions about content moderation and I’m not going to comment on their specific private actions,” Mr Patel said.

“But what I will say is this department’s support for free speech and freedom of the press is well documented.”

Meanwhile at the UN, Secretary General Antonio Guterres's spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the move sets a "dangerous precedent". The EU also condemned the suspensions.

US journalism groups called on Mr Musk to reinstate the journalist accounts.

Clare Regan, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, said: “Twitter's action affects all journalists and goes against Musk's promise to uphold free speech on the platform.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists said Mr Musk should reinstate the accounts immediately.

“If Twitter owner Elon Musk truly wants to foster a platform that allows free speech for all, it makes no sense to remove journalists from the platform,” the organisation's president, Jodie Ginsberg, said in a statement.

“If confirmed as retaliation for their work, this would be a serious violation of journalists’ right to report the news without fear of reprisal.”

Mr Musk appeared to turn the fate of the suspended accounts over to Twitter users, asking in a poll when the suspensions should be lifted.

The standard ban period for doxxing — publishing personal information, including a person's location, online — on the service is seven days, he said.

A majority of respondents said the suspensions should be revoked immediately.

Ryan Mac, a reporter with The New York Times, tweeted from a new account that he had been given no warning before his suspension.

“I have no email or communication from the company about the reason for suspension,” he said.

“I report on Twitter, Elon Musk and his companies. And I will continue to do so.”

Mr Musk, who took over Twitter with the stated goal of eliminating censorship, tweeted that “doxxing rules apply to ‘journalists’, as to everyone else”.

“This is management as dark performance art,” Paul Barrett, deputy director of the NYU Stern Centre for Business and Human Rights, told Bloomberg.

“The one thing for which we can all thank Mr Musk is that he is demonstrating, day by day, how dangerous it is for so much corporate power to be concentrated in the hands of a few Silicon Valley moguls.”

Mr Musk appears to be going through a difficult period since his takeover of Twitter in October.

His personal fortune has plunged as his erratic handling of the social media company and right-wing political musings have hurt the Tesla brand, which represents the bulk of his wealth.

The electric car company he cofounded was once a beloved status symbol for left-leaning progressives looking to burnish their environmental credentials, but many have been turned off by Mr Musk's actions this year.

Thanks to Tesla's stock collapse, Mr Musk has lost his crown as the world's richest man. Shares of the EV maker slumped another 4.72 per cent on Friday, capping an already brutal week.

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: December 16, 2022, 11:15 PM