Elon Musk flexes his media muscle by suspending journalists on Twitter

Elon Musk flexes his media muscle by suspending journalists on Twitter

Elon Musk flexes his media muscle by suspending journalists on Twitter

Elon Musk’s decision to abruptly suspend several journalists from Twitter sparked outcry on Friday from First Amendment supporters, threats of sanctions from European regulators and questions about the future of the social media platform. as a gathering place for information and ideas.

But as people debated complex and novel issues of free speech and online censorship, the ruling also underscored the role of a simpler, more enduring part of American life: the press baron.

Hello, Citizen Musk.

Like William Randolph Hearst and Rupert Murdoch before him, Mr. Musk now controls an influential means of mass media production. Twitter, while different from newspapers and television networks, attracted journalists by presenting itself as a virtual public square. Now Mr. Musk, despite his stated wish “that even my worst critics stay on Twitter,” flexes his owner muscle in seemingly arbitrary ways, seeming to weed out accounts he personally dislikes.

The suspensions – which included reporters from CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post – came after Mr Musk accused the reporters of breaking Twitter’s rules on breaching privacy. Twitter had recently shut down an account, @ElonJet, which tracked the whereabouts of Mr. Musk’s private plane using publicly available flight data, after Mr. Musk claimed that a “crazy stalker “had approached a car in which one of his sons was traveling.

“You are not special because you are a journalist; you are a citizen, so no special treatment,” Musk told reporters in a brief audio session on Twitter on Thursday. He added, using a term for posting intrusive personal information, “You doxx, you’re suspended, end of story.”

But it was not clear how the journalists suspended by Mr. Musk had violated Twitter policies. Some of the reporters had written about the removal of @ElonJet and other accounts that tracked or linked to private jets; some had previously written articles critical of Mr. Musk’s handling of Twitter. On Friday, Twitter suspended the account of Linette Lopez, a journalist who published investigations of Tesla, another company controlled by Mr. Musk.

Just last month, Mr Musk said @ElonJet would be allowed to stay on Twitter. He said the pledge demonstrated “my commitment to free speech”, a common refrain for Mr. Musk, who has amassed millions of fans online in part by portraying himself as a determined First Amendment absolutist. to eliminate alleged biases on the part of Twitter. previous management.

Journalist participation on Twitter, a privately controlled corporation, does not equate to free speech; reporters are free to publish their work on their own company platforms and through other social media.

For more than a decade, however, Twitter has occupied a unique role in the news and information ecosystem, where journalists flock to share their stories, develop relationships with sources and debate current issues. . It also allowed writers from outside established organizations to enter political and cultural conversations.

Following Mr. Musk’s suspensions, media outlets said Twitter acted arbitrarily in ways that could serve to intimidate reporters reporting on its businesses. “If this is upheld as retaliation for their work, it would be a serious violation of journalists’ rights to report the news without fear of reprisal,” Jodie Ginsberg, chair of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said Friday. CNN called the suspensions “impulsive and unwarranted” and The New York Times described the measures as “questionable.”

There have also been negative reactions from European Union lawmakers. Vera Jourova, vice-president of the European Commission, said the move violated the EU’s Digital Services Act and its Media Freedom Act, which serves as a sort of regulation for moderating online content. “There are red lines. And sanctions, soon, ”she said. tweeted Friday.

Mr. Musk strongly rejected those criticisms. He mocked reporters for crying foul, arguing that actions taken by Twitter under its former owners — like restricting posts related to a 2020 New York Post report on Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son. , Hunter – amounted to censorship of conservative views.

“So inspiring to see the press’s newfound love of free speech,” Musk wrote in a Twitter post, implying that journalists upset over the suspensions did not speak out when Twitter restricted certain posts. on Covid and presidential politics that the platform had deemed misinformation.

Mr. Musk also has supporters in Silicon Valley’s C-suites, where many founders and tech investors look at his unorthodox handling of Twitter with enthusiasm, not disdain. These leaders believe that Mr. Musk’s direct confrontations with his critics, such as dissident workers and skeptical journalists, could offer a future model for tech leaders tired of ceding power to internal and external critics.

This week’s drama landed in a larger discussion about the role of social media platforms in shaping the ideas that circulate online. Mr. Musk, who did not respond to a request for comment, is a happy warrior in this debate; that prompted his release this month of the so-called Twitter Files, a trove of internal documents he says shed light on Twitter’s past content moderation decisions.

One of the journalists to whom Mr. Musk entrusted these documents, Bari Weiss, said Friday that she was troubled by Twitter’s decision to suspend journalists’ accounts.

“Twitter’s old regime is ruled by its own quirks and biases and it sure looks like the new regime has the same problem,” said Ms. Weiss, a former Times opinion columnist and editor-in-chief, founder of a independent media site. , the free press. “I oppose it either way. And I think journalists who were covering a story of public importance should be reinstated.

Mr. Musk seemed unimpressed with Ms. Weiss’ take; in a Twitter replyhe accused her of “a virtuous signal to show that you are ‘good enough’ in the eyes of the media elite to keep a foot in both worlds.”

It was unclear whether Mr Musk could possibly backtrack and reinstate the suspended journalists’ accounts. Friday, Mr. Musk asked its 121 million subscribers to vote on when the accounts might be reinstated; Friday evening, nearly 60% of respondents had voted “now”. The count was to last several more hours.

This week’s developments have some journalists, and not the first time, wondering if Twitter’s days as the media’s favorite social platform are numbered and if journalists should be considering alternatives.

Naturally, the discussion took place on Twitter, with Mr. Musk, as usual, a very active participant. In a series of posts on Friday, Mr Musk – who, like any proud press baron, watches his platform closely – cracked jokes, defended his positions and goaded his critics. He pointed to a user’s post that Twitter now has “more attention, press and power than ever before”, responding with an approving bullseye emoji.

Citizen Musk seemed to be enjoying himself.

Bernard Warner and Kate Conger contributed report.


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