Twitter banned the accounts of several high-profile journalists from top news organizations on Thursday night without explanation, apparently a key effort by new owner Elon Musk to exert his unilateral authority over the platform.
The accounts of CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, The New York Times’ Ryan Mac, The Washington Post’s Drew Harwell and other journalists who have aggressively covered Musk in recent weeks have all been abruptly suspended permanently. Progressive independent journalist Aaron Rupar’s account was also banned.
Neither Musk nor Twitter responded to a request for comment Thursday evening. The platform did not explain exactly why the journalists were banned from the platform.
The bans raised a number of questions about the future of the platform, which has been dubbed a digital city square. It also seriously questioned Musk’s alleged commitment to free speech.
Musk has repeatedly said he would allow all legal expression on the platform; in April, the same day he announced he was buying Twitter, he had tweeted, “I hope even my worst critics stay on Twitter because that’s what freedom of speech means.”
“Elon says he is a champion of free speech and he bans journalists for exercising free speech. I think that calls into question his commitment,” Harwell told CNN on Thursday. Rupar also said he had heard “nothing” about the ban from Twitter.
A CNN spokesperson said the company has asked Twitter for an explanation and that it would “re-evaluate our relationship based on that response.”
“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 to anyone using Twitter,” the spokesperson said.
A spokesman for the New York Times called the mass bans “questionable and unfortunate”, adding: “Neither The Times nor Ryan have received any explanation as to why this happened. We hope that all of the journalists’ accounts are reinstated and that Twitter provides a satisfactory explanation for this action.”
The suspensions come after Twitter also shut down an account belonging to Mastodon, an up-and-coming competitor, on Thursday.
The Mastodon account had tweeted earlier today that people could follow @ElonJet, the account that tracks Musk’s private jet on its platform, after the billionaire banned @ElonJet from Twitter on Wednesday.
That tweet probably violates Twitter rules. In his quest to rid Twitter of @ElonJet, Musk introduced new policies to ban accounts that track people’s live locations.
Musk also blocked any account from linking to such information, as Mastodon did by linking to the account on his platform.
The move comes after Musk reinstated previous Twitter rule-breakers and stopped enforcing the platform’s policies banning disinformation about Covid-19.
Several of the journalists banned Thursday had covered the Mastodon account ban, highlighting the irony of Musk’s self-proclaimed mission to promote free speech.
“Freedom of speech is when the second richest man in the world threatens legal action against a 20-year-old student for sharing publicly available data he doesn’t like,” Harwell tweeted before his account was deleted, referring to Jack Sweeney, the student who runs @ElonJet.
CNN’s O’Sullivan had also covered the story, having interviewed Sweeney and his grandmother about the matter.
“I think this is very important for the potentially chilling impact that this could have for freelance journalists, independent journalists around the world, especially those who cover Elon Musk’s other companies, like Tesla and SpaceX,” O said. Sullivan to CNN Thursday after his report. had been suspended.
As the furore over the account suspensions unfolded, some Twitter users reported that the platform had begun to intervene when they attempted to post links to their own profiles on alternative social networks, including Mastodon.
Those reports were corroborated Thursday night by a CNN reporter who was blocked from sharing a Mastodon profile URL and received an automated error message stating that Twitter or its partners had identified the site as “potentially malicious.”