Elon Musk’s Twitter sparks backlash from lawmakers, pundits over suspension of journalists

(NEW YORK) — Elon Musk prompted backlash from lawmakers and figures across the political spectrum overnight in response to Twitter suspending the accounts of more than half a dozen journalists who cover Musk at The New York Times, The Washington Post and other prominent outlets.

The journalists were initially suspended on Thursday without warning but Musk later told reporters in a Twitter Spaces interview that the banned accounts had shared real-time location information, an apparent reference to accounts that track the planes of the well-known, like Musk.

Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Mass., who serves on the House committee on electronic communications and the internet, voiced concern over the bans.

“My team met with [Twitter] today,” Trahan said on Thursday. “They told us that they’re not going to retaliate against independent journalists or researchers who publish criticisms of the platform.”

“Less than 12 hours later, multiple technology reporters have been suspended. What’s the deal, @elonmusk?” she added.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who has 13.4 million followers on the platform and previously described threats on her life, sharply criticized the removal of journalists’ accounts.

“You’re a public figure. An extremely controversial and powerful one,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I get feeling unsafe, but descending into abuse of power + erratically banning journalists only increases the intensity around you.”

“Take a beat and lay off the proto-fascism,” she added. “Maybe try putting down your phone.”

Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The latest suspensions came days after Twitter banned accounts that had shared publicly available information on plane travel. The company imposed a new rule on the same day prohibiting the spread of real-time location information on the platform, after a stalker allegedly followed a car carrying Musk’s son, Musk said.

Musk posted a poll on his Twitter account on Thursday night asking followers whether the suspensions of journalist accounts should be lifted “now” or “in 7 days.” As of Friday morning, nearly three million people had voted, preferring that the ban be lifted immediately by a margin of 58% to 42%.

Vera Jourova, European Commission vice president, characterized the bans as “worrying” and said they violate measures recently enacted by the European Union that regulate content moderation procedures on social media platforms.

The Digital Services Act, an EU law that takes effect in 2023, slaps offenders with fines of up to 6% of global revenue.

“There are red lines,” Jourova said on Friday. “And sanctions, soon.”

The journalists suspended from the platform include The New York Times’ Ryan Mac, The Washington Post’s Drew Harwell and CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, as well as independent journalists Keith Olbermann and Aaron Rupar, among others.

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 statement added. “We have asked Twitter for an explanation, and we will reevaluate our relationship based on that response.”

The moves elicited criticism from prominent commentators across the political spectrum.

Ben Shapiro, a conservative pundit with 5.2 million followers on Twitter, opposed the bans, even as he sympathized with Musk’s safety fears and criticized some of the reporters who were subject to the bans.

Meanwhile, Will Cain, a conservative host of the Fox News program Fox and Friends, expressed disagreement with the ban of Rupar.

“I haven’t seen a compelling case for his suspension from Twitter,” Cain said.

Musk, a self-avowed defender of free speech who acquired Twitter in October, previously said that he would not ban the account tracking his flight activity.

“My commitment to free speech extends even to not banning the account following my plane, even though that is a direct personal safety risk,” he said on Twitter on Nov. 6.

Earlier this month, Musk framed previous content moderation at Twitter as censorship after he gave some journalists access to internal Twitter communications pertaining to the restriction of messages linking to a New York Post report about Hunter Biden, the son of President Joe Biden.

The journalists called an ensuing set of stories about the internal communications the Twitter Files.

Wesley Lowery, an independent journalist and a former reporter at the Washington Post, criticized Twitter’s suspension of accounts belonging to journalists as a restriction of speech that exceeded previous efforts revealed in the internal communications.

“The owner of twitter targeting and suspending reporters who shared accurate reporting about him is much more troubling and much more in violation of the spirit of twitter as a public square than anything exposed in the so-called #twitterfiles,” Lowery said.

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