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Elon Musk reinstates suspended journalists on Twitter after backlash

Twitter headquarters in San Francisco on Nov. 4. The United Nations and the European Union are among the groups that have condemned Elon Musk's decision to suspend several journalists from the social media platform.
David Odisho
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Twitter headquarters in San Francisco on Nov. 4. The United Nations and the European Union are among the groups that have condemned Elon Musk's decision to suspend several journalists from the social media platform.

Updated December 18, 2022 at 1:45 PM ET

Amid intense backlash and accusations of violating press freedom, Twitter has reinstated the accounts of several journalists who were suspended over the last several days, though at least one remains suspended.

On Thursday night, the social media platform suspended several reporters who had tweeted or written about Elon Musk's ownership of the company.

Among the accounts that went dark were Donie O'Sullivan of CNN; Ryan Mac of The New York Times; Drew Harwell of The Washington Post; Micah Lee of The Intercept; and journalist Aaron Rupar.

On Friday evening, Musk put the decision of whether to reinstate suspended accounts up for a public vote. He tweeted an informal poll which asked Twitter users to choose when to "unsuspend accounts who doxxed my exact location in real-time."

According to the poll, 58.7% of voters favored lifting the suspensions immediately over 41.3% of respondents who said Musk should wait seven more days.

Rupar, whose account was reinstated on Friday, said the suspensions signaled Twitter's instability.

"It's a clear illustration that it is no longer a rules-based company," Rupar told NPR. "It's basically a company based on Elon Musk's whims and the terms of service depend on his mood each day."

Joan Donovan, the research director at Harvard's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, thinks the spree of suspensions is only the beginning.

"The way Musk is targeting particular mainstream journalists, I think we're going to see more of these shenanigans, and not less, over the next couple of months," she told NPR's Michel Martin on All Things Considered.

Linette Lopez, a Business Insider reporter who previously covered Musk, said her account was suspended on Friday after she tweeted court documents that revealed Musk had hacked and doxxed people in the past.

"Its funny that Elon suddenly has a problem with doxxing and harassing people because he has a history of doing that before people were paying such close attention to him," she told NPR.

Washington Post columnist Taylor Lorenz said her account was briefly suspended on Saturday evening, after seemingly asking Musk to comment on an upcoming story. Though Lorenz said she was told from Twitter Support that her account was permanently banned, it appeared to be active again as of Sunday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Lopez's account remains suspended as of Sunday. She said she has not heard from the company as to why.

NPR has reached out to Twitter and Musk but has not gotten a response.

It all started with a jet-tracking Twitter account

Prior to suspending the accounts of the journalists, Musk took issue with several accounts that tracked the movement of private planes used by billionaires, government officials and others.

Musk was particularly concerned with the jet-tracking account, @ElonJet, run by a 20-year-old University of Central Florida student, which Musk alleges was used by a "crazy stalker" in Los Angeles to follow one of Musk's children.

Journalists who tweeted or wrote about Musk's rift with the account found themselves later suspended.

Musk, a self-professed "free speech absolutist," has denied accusations that the suspensions were in retaliation for critical coverage. Instead, he argued that the accounts are a "physical safety violation" and can lead to "doxxing," or sharing of personal information to encourage harassers.

"Criticizing me all day long is totally fine, but doxxing my real-time location and endangering my family is not," Musk tweeted Thursday night.

Musk's crackdown was condemned by the U.N. and EU

A number of organizations around the globe have criticized Musk's apparent silencing of high-profile journalists on Twitter.

Melissa Fleming, the United Nations undersecretary-general for global communications, 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," Fleming tweeted on Friday.

Věra Jourová, the European Commission vice president, warned Twitter of potentially violating the European Union's Digital Services Act and Media Freedom Act.

"There are red lines. And sanctions, soon," Jourová tweeted Friday.

The suspensions have also drawn outrage from several news organizations that are demanding explanations for why their reporters were temporarily banned.

"Twitter's increasing instability and volatility should be of incredible concern for everyone who uses the platform," CNN said in a statement on Thursday. "We will reevaluate our relationship based on that response."

Following Lorenz's brief ban, Washington Post Executive Editor Sally Buzbee told NPR on Sunday, "The arbitrary suspension of another Post journalist further undermines Elon Musk's claim that he intends to run Twitter as a platform dedicated to free speech."

For Rupar, though he was initially worried about how the Twitter ban would negatively impact his career, the opposite turned out to be true.

"The consequences for me were pretty positive overall," he said.

In the hours following his suspension, Rupar said he received an onslaught of support and a mass of followers on his newly created Mastodon account — which he plans to use more frequently.

"Even though I'm back on Twitter, in light of this experience, it seems like a good time to spend more energy developing a following elsewhere," Rupar said.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.