Suspended Journalist Matt Binder: Twitter’s Free Speech Problem Is Elon Musk

It seemed inevitable, really. As a member of the media who reports critically on controversial tech figures like Elon Musk, it was only a matter of time before I had my access to the social media platform I now own revoked, either temporarily or permanently.

Of course, Musk can suspend me from the platform, but that action negates his claims to be a strong advocate of transparency and free speech.

If you haven’t been following this latest development in the endless chaos that is Elon Musk’s Twitter, on Thursday night I was swept up in the latest round of seemingly capricious bans from the social media platform. And I’m in good company, too. About a dozen high-profile Twitter accounts, including journalists from outlets like The New York Times, the washington postand CNN, were temporarily suspended from the platform for a seven-day period set by Musk.

The alleged infringement? According to Musk, we posted his “exact real-time location, basically the coordinates of the murder, in (obviously) direct violation of Twitter’s terms of service.”

Except, at least as far as what I posted is concerned, that’s not true.

So what did I actually do to conflict with the official policies of Elon Musk and/or Twitter? That part is still unclear.


Twitter suspends accounts of multiple tech journalists without explanation

This whole situation started on Wednesday when Musk banned the @ElonsJet account, which tracked the flights of the Twitter owner’s personal jet. Y the personal account of its creator, college student Jack Sweeney. Musk then announced a new Twitter policy that prohibits people’s real-time location data from being posted to Twitter.

Keep this in mind: At the time of Sweeney’s suspension, he hadn’t broken Twitter’s rules—they didn’t exist. In fact, Musk tweeted last month that he was fine with the existing Twitter account, due to his stated beliefs about free speech. However, when Musk changed his mind, he didn’t even give Sweeney a chance to modify how his accounts worked to follow Musk’s new rules.

Later that night, Musk shared a story that his family was approached by an alleged stalker who was following them in his car, hinting that Sweeney’s @ElonJet account was responsible.

The following day, CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan shared an LAPD statement regarding the alleged harassment incident. The statement said that LAPD had not yet heard from Musk and that no police report had yet been filed. O’Sullivan was immediately suspended after posting this tweet.

I took a screenshot of O’Sullivan’s last tweet and posted it myself, noting that it had been suspended right after it was posted on the platform. Minutes later, my account was also suspended.

Could that have been the offensive tweet that led to my ban? Or maybe it was my tweet about Elon Musk assuring Tesla shareholders that the company was a good “long-term” investment on the same day we found out he sold $3.6 billion of Tesla stock? Or maybe it was one of my many tweets showing how many times there is a huge gap between the things Musk says and does.

Musk claims the suspended users falsified their location by sharing information from the since-suspended @ElonsJet account. But frankly, you don’t need a reason.

And that’s really what people need to take away from the last 50 days of Twitter under Elon Musk’s ownership. Musk can do whatever he wants with the platform: it’s a private company. He can choose to suspend, shadowban, implement, cancel or revert policies on a whim.

However, these recent bans are at odds with Musk’s proposed vision for the platform. He has expressed his goal of turning Twitter into a transparent platform based on freedom of expression. But by muting my account and those of other journalists, Musk has exposed that mission statement for what it really is: a smokescreen for his personal agenda.


Elon Musk shuts down Twitter Spaces after being confronted by journalists banned from one

In fact, I have endorsed some of his expressed views. I also believe that users should not be permanently banned from the platform. I said that long before I got suspended. Bans should have time limits and give users a chance to comply with the rules when they return. If they don’t, that should warrant another suspension based on time.

I have also supported Musk’s proposals for greater transparency. Twitter is within its rights to limit the scope of accounts; that is, to what extent the Twitter algorithm promotes and disseminates certain content. Musk has said that he likes this kind of restraint. Users need to know when their content is excluded from the trending list. And they also need to know why and what they could do to rectify the situation.

But all of the above proposed policies exist in a realm of idealistic talking points. Musk has said a lot about the direction of Twitter and then hasn’t followed through on those promises. Musk also has an obvious problem with consistent politics.

Musk himself has criticized former Twitter executives for internally debating how to carry out the platform’s various policies and how to administer punishments for violating those policies. In response to this so-called scandalous corporate behavior, Musk published the Twitter Files, a series of internal documents provided to selected journalists to expose the machinations of the “old regime.” But everything we’ve seen to date from these files simply amounts to a back-and-forth internal discussion between former Twitter execs about how best to moderate content.

Elon Musk’s Twitter operation no longer leaves room for that debate. Suspensions and new policies are enacted as you go, depending on how you feel at the time.

Again, Elon Musk is free to do all of this. He can cancel your account right now if he wants. It doesn’t matter how long your business has built up a following on the platform. You can go tomorrow. There is no independent content moderation body, as there is on Facebook and Instagram, to handle user appeals. He said that he would create one, but then decided not to go through with it. Of course, you don’t need to create one. That his business.

The problem is that Musk is promoting Twitter (and himself) as paragons of free speech, which is the opposite of who he is and what he’s doing. He doesn’t have to be fair. But he presents himself as fair, when that is not the case. He claims that free speech exists on the platform within the legal limits of the law and then contradicts it by banning content that is completely legal.

As for my account, it currently shows up as “permanently suspended” when I view my Twitter feed. Being suspended means that my account is currently in read-only mode. I can see tweets from users I follow, but I can’t post, like, retweet, or view my DMs. I’ve been on Twitter since 2008 and have never received a warning about my content, let alone been suspended, even temporarily. I have always followed Twitter’s policies because before October 28, 2022, the rules were equally Clear.

Yes, I have been highly critical of Musk both in my reporting for Mashable and in my tweets about how he has handled the platform. However, I did not post any location-based data related to anyone, including Elon Musk, on Twitter or anywhere else. I have not linked to other platforms for the purpose of disseminating this now prohibited information. Nor have I retweeted posts from other users with this data. But I’ve written a lot, both on Mashable and on my Twitter account, about what Musk has been up to, including the situation with @ElonsJet.

In fact, looking at Twitter’s current policy page, which has been updated, I can tell that everything I’ve tweeted falls under the following items listed here:

  • the media is publicly available or is being covered by mainstream media

  • media and accompanying tweet text add value to public discourse or are shared in the public interest

  • the media subject is a public figure

I’m hoping to find out which of my tweets violated Twitter policies and don’t fit the above criteria listed on Twitter’s policy page so that other users can finally learn what Musk’s current new rules are.

Now what about you? Does all of this mean that you should leave Twitter if your account hasn’t been banned? That is your call to make. Personally, I think it’s important to take advantage of the social media pulpit you have, whatever the platform. As for me, if my account isn’t suspended in seven days, I’ll be back on Twitter.

That said, if you, like me, choose to stay, just remember: These developments don’t seem to show that Twitter’s new owner is motivated by what’s best for business, or even by actual free speech issues. Musk, to all appearances, is driven by his feelings. And if that is really his motivation, he will ban you for any reason at any time.

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