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Suspended journalist Matt Binder: Twitter has a freedom of speech problem and it’s Elon Musk

Suspended journalist Matt Binder: Twitter has a freedom of speech problem and it’s Elon Musk

Elon Musk needs to pick a lane already.Credit: Ian Moore

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

Of course, Musk can suspend me from the platform, but that action negates his claims about being a staunch advocate for transparency and free speech.

If you haven’t been following this latest development in the never-ending chaos that is Elon Musk’s Twitterlate Thursday night I was swept up in the social media platform’s most recent round of seemingly capricious bans. And I’m in good company, too. Roughly a dozen high-profile Twitter accounts, including journalists from outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Postand CNN, were temporarily suspended from the platform for a seven-day period set by Musk.

The alleged infraction? According to Musk, we posted his “exact real-time location, basically assassination coordinates, in (obvious) direct violation of Twitter terms of service.”

Except, at least when it comes to what I posted, that’s not true.

So what did I really do to run afoul of Elon Musk and/or Twitter’s official policies? That part still remains unclear.

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

Keep this in mind: At the time of Sweeney’s suspension, he had not broken Twitter’s rules — they didn’t exist. In fact, Musk tweeted last month he was fine with the account existing on Twitter, due to his stated beliefs on free speech. Yet when Musk changed his mind, he didn’t even give Sweeney the opportunity to amend how his accounts ran in order to follow Musk’s new rules.

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

The next day, CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan shared an LAPD statement regarding the alleged stalking incident. The statement said that the 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 he had been suspended right after it went live on the platform. Minutes later, my account was also suspended.

Could that have been the offending tweet that prompted my ban? Or perhaps it was my tweet about Elon Musk assuring Tesla shareholders that the company was a good “long-term” investment on the same day we later found out he sold off $3.6 billion in Tesla stock? Or maybe it was any of my many tweets showcasing the many times there’s a large gap between the things Musk says and does.

Musk claims the suspended users doxed his location by sharing information from the since-suspended @ElonsJet account. But, frankly, he doesn’t need a reason.

And that’s really what people need to take away from the past 50 days of Twitter under Elon Musk’s ownership. Musk can do whatever he likes with the platform — it’s a private company. He can choose to suspend, shadowban, roll out, cancel or reverse policies on a whim.

These recent bans, however, are at odds with Musk’s proposed vision for the platform. He’s voiced his goal of turning Twitter into a transparent, free speech-based platform. But by silencing my account and those of the other journalists, Musk has exposed that mission statement for what it actually is: a smokescreen for his personal agenda.

I’ve actually been supportive of some of his stated opinions. I, too, believe that users shouldn’t be permanently banned from the platform. I’ve said this well before I was suspended myself. Bans should have time limits and give users the chance to adhere to the rules when they return. If they don’t, then that should warrant another time-based suspension.

I’ve also been supportive of Musk’s proposals for more transparency. Twitter is within its right to limit the reach of accounts; that is, how far the Twitter algorithm promotes and spreads certain content. Musk has said he likes this type of moderation himself. Users should know when their content is barred from the trending list. And they should also 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 many things regarding the direction of Twitter and then not delivered on said promises. Musk also has an obvious problem with consistent policy.

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

Elon Musk’s operation of Twitter no longer leaves room for that debate. Suspensions and new policies are enacted on the fly, based on how he feels in the moment.

Again, Elon Musk is free to do all of this. He can take your account down right now if he’d like. It doesn’t matter how long your business has built up its following on the platform. It can be gone tomorrow. There is no independent content moderation body, like there is at Facebook and Instagram, to field user appeals. He said he’d create one, but then decided not to follow through. Of course, he doesn’t need to create one. It’s his company.

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

As for my account, it’s currently listed as “permanently suspended” when I view my Twitter feed. Being suspended means my account is currently in read-only mode. I can see tweets from the users I follow, but I cannot post content, like, retweet, or view my DMs. I’ve been on Twitter since 2008 and have never so much as received a warning about my content, let alone gotten suspended, even temporarily. I’ve always followed Twitter’s policies because, prior to Oct. 28, 2022, the rules were fairly clear.

Yes, I have been highly critical of Musk in both my reporting for Mashable and in my tweets about how he has run the platform. However, I did not post any location-based data relating to anyone, including Elon Musk, on Twitter or elsewhere. I have not linked out to other platforms with the purpose of disseminating this now-banned information. Nor have I retweeted other users’ posts with this data. But I have written extensively, both on Mashable and on my Twitter account, about what Musk has been doing, including the situation with @ElonsJet.

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

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

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

  • the subject of the media is a public figure

I look forward to finding out which of my tweets violated Twitter’s policies and do not fall in line with the above criteria listed on Twitter’s policy page so that other users may finally know what Musk’s current new rules are.

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

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

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Joey Yak Pieper

Joey Yak Pieper is a journalist at Flaunt Weekly

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