Twitter on Thursday evening suddenly suspended several high-profile journalists who cover the platform and Elon Musk, one of the richest people in the world, who acquired the company just a few months ago.
Hours after the suspensions took hold, Musk faced off with one of the journalists he suspended in a Twitter Space audio discussion before an audience of more than 30,000 listeners. The suspended journalist, along with several others, found a backdoor way onto the platform through the website’s audio function.
“You doxx, you get suspended. End of story. That’s it,” Musk said, explaining his latest policy to the group, before he left minutes after having joined the discussion.
Musk was referring to Twitter’s latest rule change about accounts that track private jets, including one owned by Musk himself, which was put in place Wednesday.
The accounts of Ryan Mac of The New York Times, Donie O’Sullivan of CNN, Drew Harwell of The Washington Post, Matt Binder of Mashable, Micah Lee of The Intercept, Steve Herman of Voice of America and independent journalists Aaron Rupar, Keith Olbermann and Tony Webster had all been suspended as of Thursday evening.
The Twitter account for Mastodon, a platform billed as a Twitter alternative, was also suspended early Thursday evening. Twitter accounts operated by NBC News journalists were unable to tweet any links to Mastodon pages. Mastodon was, however, trending on Twitter.
Musk said the suspensions stemmed from the platform’s new rules banning private jet trackers, responding to a tweet from Mike Solana, a vice president of the venture capital firm Founders Fund, who noted that the suspended accounts had posted links to jet trackers on other websites.
“Criticizing me all day long is totally fine, but doxxing my real-time location and endangering my family is not,” he said in another tweet.
Musk tweeted that the accounts banned Thursday posted “my exact real-time location, basically assassination coordinates, in (obvious) direct violation of Twitter terms of service.” NBC News was unable to verify that allegation.
Musk later added that the suspensions would last seven days.
In early November, shortly after having taken control of Twitter, Musk tweeted that he would not ban the account that tracked his jet.
Rupar wrote on Substack that his account was permanently suspended but that he had no other information.
“I haven’t heard anything from Twitter at all,” he wrote.
He noted that he had tweeted a link Wednesday to a Facebook page that tracked Musk’s jet.
Binder, a tech reporter at Mashable, said he was suspended after he tweeted a screenshot from another suspended reporter, CNN’s O’Sullivan, of a Los Angeles Police Department statement.
“I’ve been on it since 2008. I never got so much as a slap on the wrist, because I always follow the rules,” Binder said. “It’s not hard to do when you know what the rules are.”
Binder said his account notified him that he is permanently suspended.
“This is the very stuff that he’s criticized the previous Twitter of doing,” Binder said of Musk.
Binder did appear to find a loophole in Twitter’s suspension, joining an audio discussion on Twitter’s Spaces feature with other journalists Thursday night. Harwell later also joined.
“I’m breaking the law in ways that have never been broken before,” Binder joked.
Jack Sweeney, a 20-year-old Florida college student who created the Twitter account that tracked Musk’s jet, was also able to join the discussion despite his account’s suspension.
Musk later joined the discussion, but briefly — getting out his talking points and then leaving abruptly. He had earlier put up a poll with a variety of options, asking whether or when he should reinstate the journalists’ accounts. When a plurality of respondents voted to restore the accounts immediately, he deleted the poll and started a new one with fewer options.
O’Sullivan said Thursday that all those journalists who were suspended with him were people who cover Musk.
“As we saw with the jet tracker last night, Musk seems to be just stamping out accounts that he doesn’t like,” O’Sullivan said on CNN.
A spokesperson for the network said the suspensions were “impulsive and unjustified” — but not surprising.
“Twitter’s increasing instability and volatility should be of incredible concern for everyone who uses Twitter,” the network said in a statement. “We have asked Twitter for an explanation, and we will reevaluate our relationship based on that response.”
Sally Buzbee, the executive editor of The Washington Post, said Harwell’s suspension “directly undermines Elon Musk’s claim that he intends to run Twitter as a platform dedicated to free speech.”
Harwell was “banished from Twitter without warning, process or explanation, following the publication of his accurate reporting about Musk” and should be reinstated immediately, Buzbee said in a statement Thursday night.
A spokesperson for The New York Times, who called the suspensions questionable and unfortunate, said no explanation was provided to Mac or the newspaper about the ban.
Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Mass., tweeted that she had met on Thursday with Twitter representatives, who said the company would not take action against journalists who criticize the platform.
“Less than 12 hours later, multiple technology reporters have been suspended. What’s the deal, @elonmusk?” Trahan added.
Musk has backtracked on his promise that he would run Twitter as a free speech absolutist, reinstating accounts associated with the QAnon movement and other far-right groups while banning others.
Internally, he has removed critics of his policies from the company.
The suspensions add to what has been a tumultuous couple of days for Twitter after it first suspended the account that tracked Musk’s jet.
Musk appeared to threaten legal action against Sweeney, the creator of the @ElonJet account, after he claimed that a “stalker” confronted a car carrying his child in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
Musk provided no proof that Sweeney or his account was involved. He did not provide a time or location in the sprawling metropolitan area where he claimed the incident occurred.
Sweeney told NBC News on Wednesday that he hasn’t received any notification of legal action and that the last time his bot tweeted anything was Monday, “which is not last night, so I don’t get how that’s connected.”
The Los Angeles Police Department said Thursday that no police reports had been filed.
“LAPD’s Threat Management Unit is aware of the situation and tweet by Elon Musk and is in contact with his representatives and security team. No crime reports have been filed yet,” Officer Lizeth Lomeli, a police public information officer, said in a statement Thursday evening.
Other law enforcement departments also cover parts of the Los Angeles metropolitan area.