Musk Reinstates Journalists' Twitter Accounts Suspended for Doxxing Violations

Musk Reinstates Journalists' Twitter Accounts Suspended for Doxxing Violations
Elon Musk arrives at the justice center in Wilmington, Del., on July 13, 2021. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)
Tom Ozimek

Twitter CEO Elon Musk has reinstated journalists' accounts that were earlier suspended for allegedly doxxing his location in real-time, with the temporary suspensions earning the Wikipedia moniker "Thursday Night Massacre" and fueling questions over press freedom on the platform.

After the platform updated its policy prohibiting sharing people's location in real-time—known as doxxing—due to personal safety risks, nine journalists' accounts were suspended, according to an Epoch Times tally. As of press time, eight of those have been reactivated.

Musk announced the reinstatement in a post on Twitter after running a poll that asked users whether the suspended accounts should be restored "now" or "in 7 days."

The majority of respondents voted for an immediate reinstatement of the suspended accounts.

"The people have spoken," Musk said. "Accounts who doxxed my location will have their suspension lifted now."

The accounts that were suspended belonged to CNN’s politics and tech correspondent Donie O’Sullivan (@donie), New York Times technology reporter Ryan Mac (@rmac18), Washington Post technology reporter Drew Harwell (@drewharwell),  Mashable tech reporter Matt Binder (@mattbinder), The Intercept tech reporter Micah Lee (@micahflee), Voice of America's Chief National Correspondent Steve Herman (@w7voa), journalist Aaron Rupar (@atrupar), and sports and political commentator Keith Olbermann (@Keitholbermann).

As of the time of reporting, the only account that remained blocked was Olbermann's.

Some of the journalists disputed the claim that they had exposed Musk's location in real time in violation of Twitter's new anti-doxxing policy.

'Thursday Night Massacre'

Twitter's suspension of the accounts came after Musk unsuccessfully tried to persuade the Twitter account @ElonJet to stop sharing private jet movements in real time—which he repeatedly said posed a risk to his safety—and after what he described as a "crazy stalker" climbed onto a car carrying his 2-year-old son.
The account suspensions came a day after Twitter announced changes to its Private Information policy—commonly referred to as its doxxing policy—prohibiting the sharing of real-time location information or linking to external sources that share such data, citing a “risk of physical harm.”

The doxxing policy states that any account sharing real-time location information of private individuals (with the exception of the user themselves) would receive a temporary suspension of unspecified duration. The second time they do so, their account will be permanently suspended.

In line with the new policy, the @ElonJet account was suspended, along with a number of accounts tracking the private jets of high-profile individuals, including Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Some of the journalists disputed Musk's claim that they had doxxed his location.

"To be clear, there was no ‘doxing’–even if an impulsive, accountable-to-nobody oligarch said so," Webster said in a tweet shortly after his account was restored.
Rupar wrote on Substack on Dec. 15 that he has “no idea what rules I purportedly broke” and that he hasn't had contact with Twitter regarding the suspension of his account.

Rupar also noted that prior to his suspension, he had posted a tweet regarding the @ElonJet account that was suspended from Twitter, which he said was "still active on Facebook, with a link to the Facebook page."

"Perhaps that did it, but I still don’t know what policy that could’ve possibly violated," he wrote.

Most of the journalists had talked about the owner of the suspended @ElonJet account, Jack Sweeney, or linked to the jet-tracking account in some way.

Musk also announced that he would be taking “legal action” against Sweeney.

Sweeney didn't respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.

'Basically Assassination Coordinates'

Some critics framed the suspensions as an attempt on Musk's part to muzzle journalists who have been critical of him, although he insisted otherwise: "Criticizing me all day long is totally fine, but doxxing my real-time location and endangering my family is not."
"They posted my exact real-time location, basically assassination coordinates, in (obvious) direct violation of Twitter terms of service," Musk added.
"If anyone posted real-time locations & addresses of NYT reporters, FBI would be investigating, there’d be hearings on Capitol Hill & Biden would give speeches about the end of democracy!" he continued.

The suspensions drew backlash from government officials, advocacy groups, and journalism organizations from across the globe, with some claiming Twitter was jeopardizing press freedom.

The United Nations and the European Union condemned the suspensions, and the episode even received its own Wikipedia entry, "Thursday Night Massacre."
Vera Jourova, a European Commission vice president, wrote on Twitter that the alleged “arbitrary suspension of journalists on Twitter is worrying," adding that an EU regulatory act "requires respect of media freedom and fundamental rights."

“This is reinforced under our #MediaFreedomAct. @elonmusk should be aware of that," Jourova wrote. “There are red lines. And sanctions, soon."

Jourova didn't elaborate on what sanctions she had in mind, though under the EU's Digital Services Acted that she cited, companies can be fined 6 percent of their global annual revenues for breaches.

Twitter didn't respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.

'Paparazzi, Stalkers, & Fans'

Hours before Musk threatened to take legal action against Sweeney, he responded to Jim Hall, a self-described Tesla and SpaceX enthusiast and investor, who argued that Sweeney had made it easier for "nutjobs" to find Musk and his family.
Hall shared a video of "paparazzi, stalkers, & fans" waiting for Musk outside an airport.

"The more the hate being drummed up online against Elon grows the larger the threat to Elon & his family grows. Imagine all the crazies at the extreme of both political sides targeting you nonstop," Hall wrote.

Musk responded, "Real-time posting of someone else’s location violates doxxing policy, but delayed posting of locations are ok."
Twitter users added context to Musk's tweet, noting that publishing flight records "is protected under the First Amendment," citing a related Supreme Court ruling.

The contextual note added, however, that "Twitter's TOS prohibits sharing 'information that would reveal a person’s location, regardless if this information is publicly available.'"

While Sweeney's @ElonJet account has been suspended, he continues to track Musk's jet on other platforms, including Facebook.

Sweeney expressed disappointment that his jet-tracking account on Twitter had been suspended.

“He said this is free speech and he’s doing the opposite,” Sweeney told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Musk had previously tried to persuade Sweeney to shut down the account, citing personal safety risks, and reportedly offered the teenager $5,000 to do so.

Sweeney refused and asked for $50,000 or an internship opportunity at one of Musk's companies, but the Twitter chief didn't take him up on the offer.

Tom Ozimek is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times. He has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education.