The suspensions were made without warning or prior explanation from Twitter. They came a day after Twitter changed its policy on sharing “live location information” and suspended the @ElonJet account that used public flight data to share the location of Musk’s private jet.
Many of the journalists suspended Thursday, including Washington Post technology reporter Drew Harwell, were covering the rule change, as well as Musk’s claims that he and his family were at risk because of the location swap.
Twitter did not directly respond to questions about the suspensions. But Musk suggested on Twitter, without evidence, that reporters had leaked private information about his family, known as doxing. “Criticizing me all day is perfectly fine, but freaking out about my whereabouts in real time and putting my family in danger is not.” he tweeted late Thursday.
Harwell, whose most recent stories covered the banning of @ElonJet and the rise of unsubstantiated claims on Twitter, found himself unable to log into his account or tweet around 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
“Harwell was removed from Twitter without warning, process or explanation following the publication of his accurate messages about Musk,” The Post’s executive editor Sally Buzby said in a statement. “Our journalist should be reinstated immediately.”
At least eight other reporters were fired that evening, including New York Times technology reporter Ryan Mack.
CNN’s Donnie O’Sullivan was fired shortly after tweeting about Musk’s claim that a “crazy detective” stalked his infant son in Los Angeles, according to screenshots.
Mashable’s Matt Binder was tweeting about O’Sullivan’s suspension when his account also went dark.
The account of independent journalist Tony Webster was also suspended on Thursday evening. Such were the accounts of former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann. Intercept reporter Micah Lee; VOA Chief National Correspondent Steve Herman; and Aaron Rupar, a writer for Substack, which has nearly 800,000 Twitter followers.
“It’s impossible to compromise Twitter’s free-speech ambitions by purging the pages of critical journalists,” said American Civil Liberties Union executive director Anthony D. In Romero’s statement. “The First Amendment protects Musk’s right to do this, but it’s a terrible decision. Their accounts should be restored immediately.”
Account bans within Twitter’s internal systems have been dubbed the “Ella Direction,” according to two former employees who have been in contact with Twitter staff. Ella Irwin, the company’s head of trust and security, has carried out many of Musk’s orders since he bought the company in late October and began changing the rules in favor of what she called “free speech.”
The previous suspension was marked “Elon direction”.
Musk tweeted late Thursday that the suspensions would last for a week, though several reporters had been notified via Twitter that they had been permanently banned. Later that night he picked up In a Twitter poll about when he should reinstate the accounts, but reactivated it after multiple respondents said he should do so immediately.
Musk also repeated his unsubstantiated claim that journalists leaked private information about his family.
“The same doxing rules apply to ‘journalists’ as everyone else,” he wrote in another tweet. “They published my exact location in real time, mostly kill coordinates“.
Around 11:30 p.m. Thursday, Musk joined a Twitter Spaces chat, essentially a public conference call, with several reporters, including some who were banned, in which he repeated his claim that they “picked” him.
Journalists challenged him about this.
“You are suggesting that we are sharing your address, which is not true,” Harwell said.
Musk answered. “You have pasted the address link.”
Harwell replied. “While reporting on @ElonJet, we posted a link to @ElonJet, which is now offline.”
Musk abruptly left the call about four minutes into it.
Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion in late October and quickly moved to undo many of the previous leadership’s policies against hate speech and misinformation. He took steps to reinstate former President Donald Trump and other accounts suspended under previous administrations, saying Twitter’s new policy is “freedom of speech, but not freedom of access.”
But Musk’s Twitter had already banned some high-profile accounts before Thursday’s apparent purge.
@ElonJet was permanently suspended on Wednesday, despite Musk’s tweet weeks ago saying he would continue to do so as part of “my commitment to free speech.”
On the same day, Twitter’s new policy prohibited the distribution of “live location information, including information shared directly on Twitter or … travel routes, actual physical location, or other identifying information that would reveal an individual’s location, regardless of whether that information is publicly available.” available.”
None of the tweets from the still-suspended reporters reviewed by The Post revealed the whereabouts of Musk or his family.
Lori Trahan (D-Mass) wrote on Twitter Thursday night, after his staff met with Twitter officials earlier in the day. “They told us they are not going to retaliate against independent journalists or researchers who publish criticisms of the platform. Less than 12 hours later, several tech journalists have been suspended.”
The Committee for the Protection of Journalists issued a statement about the suspensions.
“We are troubled by news that journalists who have covered recent developments related to Twitter and its owner Elon Musk have had their accounts suspended on the platform. If found to be retaliation for their work, this would be a serious violation of journalists’ right to report without fear of reprisal.”
A New York Times spokesperson called the suspensions “questionable and unfortunate” in a statement Thursday night.
“Neither the Times nor Ryan have received any explanation as to why this happened,” Charlie Stadtlander said. “We hope that all journalists’ accounts will be restored and that Twitter will provide a satisfactory explanation for this action.”
In a company statement, CNN called the suspension of O’Sullivan and other reporters “impulsive and unjustified” and said it had asked Twitter for an explanation. “We will reevaluate our relationship based on that response.”
Faiz Siddiqui, Joseph Menn and Elahe Izadi contributed to this report.