Social Media

Twitter Under Elon Musk: Violating Free Speech Or Preventing Doxxing?

Twitter CEO Elon Musk suspending some journalists' accounts has worried press freedom advocates, but he says it's because of policy.

Twitter Under Elon Musk: Violating Free Speech Or Preventing Doxxing?
Gregory Bull / AP

It started with an account tracking Elon Musk's private jet travels. Then it was journalists reporting on that account. Now Musk, who said he bought Twitter to preserve free speech, has set off a debate about what his definition of free speech is and what that means to democracy itself.

"If you're going to believe in the First Amendment principle, you've got to be consistent," said Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna from California.

American journalists and the companies they work for are furious after some members of the press saw their accounts suspended by the new Twitter owner.

But it's not just American lawmakers who are critical of the bans. A senior European Union official warned Musk that Twitter could face sanctions under a future EU media law.

On Thursday, Musk tried to explain his reasoning in a tweet, writing: "Criticizing me all day long is totally fine, but doxxing my real-time location and endangering my family is not."

"Doxxing" refers to revealing personal information like identity or location often on the internet and usually with malicious intent.

Twitter's policy on doxxing lists several factors, including whether the information is "live" and real-time, which it says may "carry higher risks" "if shared without permission."

Tech media reports say the live and real-time factor was only added to the policy after his jet became a focus.

"Twitter does have rules on its site, and as I shared, Elon has certain policies, but they seem to be changing at the minute and that, again, raises the alarm," said Kerry Flynn, a reporter for Axios.

Musk himself previously tweeted in November that he would allow the account tracking his private plane to stay on the platform.

A CNN journalist who saw his account dropped says Twitter is a private company entitled to do what it wants.

"But I do think this sends a chilling effect particularly to freelancers and independent reporters in the world to get their work out there and get assignments, especially when you consider Musk has many other companies, including SpaceX and Tesla," Donnie Sullivan said. "What about the chilling effect on freelance journalists doing critical reporting on Musk?"

Major media outlets are calling for Musk to rescind the bans, and many journalists are saying they'll leave the platform for competitors like Mastodon, which was also banned from Twitter.