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Elon Musk stunned social media users late Thursday by suspending the accounts of about half a dozen reporters and pundits who showed how to track the location of his private jet, but the billionaire’s critics are facing accusations of hypocrisy as well.
Musk’s abrupt pivot from free speech champion to censor elicited shrieking condemnation from political figures who ignored previous Twitter management’s 2020 censorship of The Post for reporting on documents from Hunter Biden’s laptop.
“I get feeling unsafe, but descending into abuse of power + erratically banning journalists only increases the intensity around you. Take a beat and lay off the proto-fascism,” wrote Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), addressing Musk
Other past cheerleaders for censorship, such as House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) joined the pile-on, with Schiff writing, “The devotion to free speech is apparently not that absolute. But the hypocrisy is.”
Schiff notoriously and falsely called The Post “a newspaper promoting Kremlin propaganda” when a cabal of Twitter executives censored accurate reporting on the now-president’s son, citing a dubious “hacked materials” concern.
Musk claimed that posts about his jet’s location threatened his family’s safety and violated his brand-new rule banning the sharing of a person’s real-time location information.
The 51-year-old father of 10, until recently the world’s richest man, said a “crazy stalker” on Tuesday “climbed” atop a car carrying his 2-year-old son in Los Angeles. He used the alleged incident to justify the removal of the two-year-old account @elonjet that automatically tracked his plane, despite Musk saying he’d leave the page up after trying and failing to pay the page’s creator, a 19-year-old University of Central Florida student, to delete it.
Musk proceeded to suspend people who continued to discuss the jet-tracking service, which is hosted elsewhere online — axing the accounts of Washington Post artificial intelligence and algorithms reporter Drew Harwell, CNN politics and technology reporter Donie O’Sullivan, The Intercept director of information security Micah Lee, political commentator Keith Olbermann, pro-Democratic newsletter writer Aaron Rupar, formerly of Vox, and Voice of America’s chief national correspondent Steven Herman.
“They posted my exact real-time location, basically assassination coordinates, in (obvious) direct violation of Twitter terms of service,” Musk tweeted, though some of the suspended users disputed the claim. “Same doxxing rules apply to ‘journalists’ as to everyone else.”
“A time delay on reporting location that doesn’t put people at serious risk of being killed is fine,” Musk added.
However, it’s very common for journalists and others to tweet the location of public figures, including politicians, celebrities and titans of industry, making the new rule nearly unenforceable.
Musk’s crackdown elicited a robust backlash — though many noted the irony of the new converts to the cause of free speech among people who said little to defend The Post when it was locked out of its account for 16 days for reporting on documents revealing new details about Joe Biden’s involvement in his family’s influence-peddling in China and Ukraine.
Joel Thayer, president of the Digital Progress Institute, said “the response to Elon Musk’s move to limit some so-called journalists’ reach is nothing short of hypocritical, especially when one considers that those same journalists celebrated Twitter shutting down the New York Post in the midst of a consequential election.”
“The fact is that leading media outlets only like censorship when the tip of the spear isn’t aimed at them. Now that they feel the sting, I hope they become more aware of how some tech platforms can change or affect narratives,” Thayer added. “Also, I hope they can be actual free speech and press advocates that hold platforms accountable when they silence any side or narrative, even one’s with which they disagree.”
Opinion columnist Bari Weiss, one of Musk’s chosen journalists to helm the so-called “Twitter Files” transparency project detailing political bias and suppression of speech on the platform, called for the suspended journalists to be reinstated.
“The old regime at Twitter governed by its own whims and biases and it sure looks like the new regime has the same problem,” Weiss wrote. “I oppose it in both cases.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, which presents itself as a leading national champion of free speech supplanting the American Civil Liberties Union, also condemned Musk for being “all talk” about free speech.
“Allowing speech you like while censoring the speech of your critics is the opposite of free expression,” said FIRE policy advocacy director Aaron Terr. “Musk has the right to run Twitter as his own private playground if he wants to. But he should stop pretending he believes in free speech.”
Catch up on Twitter’s censorship of The Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story
Still, Mike Solana, vice president and director of content at the Founders Fund, whose partners include earlier Facebook investor Peter Thiel, said, “Temporarily restricting the accounts of a few journalists for sharing the real-time location of a man’s family is not even comparable to what happened to The Post.
“What happened to The Post was way worse.”
Musk, who also runs the electric carmaker Tesla and the aerospace firm SpaceX, acquired Twitter in October for $44 billion and vowed to restore free speech principles. In April, when he offered to buy the platform, he tweeted, “I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means.” In his first acts in charge, he fired widely detested censorship officers and began to release their internal communications.
“In some way, [Musk] is just illustrating how hard it is to solve these problems,” said Mike Ananny, an associate professor of communication and journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. “He is doing it in a very idiosyncratic, knee-jerk way. We are seeing that one person cannot solve these problems.”
Musk quickly offered signs of backing down on the suspensions — creating a Twitter poll late Thursday asking if he should reinstate the booted accounts immediately or in seven days. As of Friday evening, more than 3.4 million people had voted, with nearly 60% in favor of restoring the accounts right away.
“So inspiring to see the newfound love of freedom of speech by the press,” Musk wrote sardonically Friday evening.
Robert McDowell, a Republican former Federal Communications Commission member, told The Post that the episode could serve to further underscore the perils of censorship.
“While inviting the government into your neighborhood to censor your rival today may provide you with temporary joy, eventually government censors, or their agents, will knock on your door,” McDowell said. “The media should hang together in defense of their First Amendment rights.”