Elon Musk taketh away, and Elon Musk giveth.
Late Friday night, the mercurial mega-billionaire unilaterally announced that he was unbanning journalists whose accounts had been suspended a day before — which Musk claimed had “doxxed” him by posting links to an account that tracks his private jet. Until this week, the CEO of Twitter, Tesla and SpaceX had been OK with the jet-tracker remaining on the social network he acquired for $44 billion.
“The people have spoken,” Musk tweeted just after midnight ET. “Accounts who doxxed my location will have their suspension lifted now.” Musk was referring to a poll he posted about when to reinstate the accounts he’d blocked. After nearly 3.7 million votes, 59% of the votes were in favor of lifting the bans “now” while the rest voted for “in 7 days.” Musk similarly had decided to reinstate Donald Trump’s account last month based on a straw poll, after claiming he was forming a council with “diverse viewpoints” to weigh in on such questions.
The journalists Musk had banned have disputed his assertion they “doxxed” him. To some observers, it appeared that the tech titan — as the sole decision-maker at Twitter — was trying to silence critics of his reign at the company.
“To be clear, there was no ‘doxing’ — even if an impulsive, accountable-to-nobody oligarch said so,” Tony Webster, a journalist and photographer whose account was among those suspended on Dec. 16, tweeted on Friday night. He quoted his most recent tweet before he was suspended, which said, “If you aren’t willing to admit that Elon Musk lied to you about his ‘free speech’ goals, you are simply in denial at this point.”
As of Friday night, accounts that had been restored included those of independent journalist Aaron Rupar (@atrupar), the New York Times’ Ryan Mac (@RMac18), the Washington Post’s Drew Harwell (@drewharwell), CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan (@donie), Mashable’s Matt Binder (@MattBinder), the Intercept’s Micah Lee (@micahflee) and Tony Webster (@webster).
Twitter also Friday reinstated the account of Mastodon (@joinmastodon), which had tweeted a link to the ElonJet account on its own service. Still suspended at press time was the account of political commentator Keith Olbermann.
The move by Musk — who claims he’s a “free speech absolutist” — to suspend the accounts of the high-profile journalists came after he banned the @ElonJet account and other plane-tracking bots on Wednesday, citing the need to ensure the safety of his family. Also Wednesday, Twitter issued a brand-new rule prohibiting accounts from sharing the real-time location of individuals, even if the data information is otherwise publicly available. Several of the journalists’ accounts that were suspended had tweeted about the jet-tracker and linked to its new account on rival social network Mastodon.
Last month, Musk said Twitter would grant “amnesty” to all suspended accounts and reinstate them (“provided that they have not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam”). That included neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin, founder of white-supremacist site the Daily Stormer, whom Twitter banned in 2013.
Rupar, after his account was reinstated, tweeted, “I want to thank everyone for all the support and kind words over the past day and some change. I was pretty bummed about getting suspended initially but quickly realized it’d be fine because I’m blessed to have an amazing online community. Seriously, I appreciate it a lot. Cheers.”
Rupar previously had told CNN that he had not posted anything on Twitter about @ElonJet. He has been critical of Musk in his tweets and reporting. For example, on Dec. 15, Rupar tweeted, “can’t wait for Twitter to ban Elon Musk for violating the policy the company just announced hours ago,” quote-tweeting a video clip Musk had posted of a masked person in a car that revealed its license plate and asking, “Anyone recognize this person or car?” Earlier, Musk had said in a tweet that a car in which his 2-year-old son was riding on Tuesday evening in L.A. “was followed by [a] crazy stalker (thinking it was me), who later blocked car from moving & climbed onto hood.”
Since closing the deal for Twitter less than two months ago, Musk has massively shaken up the company. In addition to axing 50% of Twitter’s staff, he’s moved to try to generate revenue from Twitter Blue by making the paid service the only way to get a “verified” blue check-mark going forward.