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Germany says Twitter journalists ban 'unacceptable'

December 16, 2022

Media organizations and the German Foreign Office have demanded an explanation over the bans while the EU has threatened sanctions. Elon Musk said the suspensions were due to the tracking of private jets.

Elon Musk looks back at the camera.
Twitter suspended the accounts of journalists who have been covering the company and Elon Musk's takeover. Image: DIMITRIOS KAMBOURIS/Getty Images/AFP

The German Foreign Office tweeted screenshots on Friday of the accounts of journalists suspended by Twitter, telling the social media platform that suspending their accounts was unacceptable.

"Press freedom cannot be switched on and off on a whim," the ministry wrote on its official Twitter page. "The journalists below can no longer follow us, comment and criticize. We have a problem with that, @Twitter."

"Arbitrary locking of journalists' accounts is unacceptable," tweeted deputy government spokesperson Wolfgang Buechner, threatening to leave the platform should the policy continue.

Twitter on Thursday suspended the accounts of several journalists who have been covering the company and Elon Musk's takeover.

The move comes a day after the social media platform changed its policies revolving around accounts which tracked private jets, including a jet owned by Musk.

Journalist's whose accounts were suspended include New York Times reporter Ryan Mac, Washington Post reporter Drew Hall, CNN's Donie O'Sullivan, Matt Binder of Mashable, The Intercept's Micah Lee and Steve Herman of Voice of America.

The accounts of independent journalists like Aaron Rupar, Tony Webster and Keith Olbermann were also suspended.

A social media company called Mastodon, known to be an alternative to Twitter, was also suspended from Twitter on Thursday.

The platform has not officially explained why it took down the accounts.

EU threatens Twitter with sanctions

The EU, meanwhile, has warned Elon Musk that Twitter could be subject to sanctions under a new media law after the "worrying" suspension of the journalists.

"EU's Digital Services Act requires respect of media freedom and fundamental rights. This is reinforced under our Media Freedom Act," EU Transparency Commissioner Vera Jourova tweeted.

"Elon Musk should be aware of that. There are red lines. And sanctions, soon."

Approved earlier this year, the Digital Services Act (DSA) builds on earlier European media law to regulate illegal content, disinformation, and and transparency online. Although service providers have a grace period of until the beginning of 2024 to fully comply, Twitter could still be found in violation of certain statutes.

What does Musk's takeover mean for Twitter?

CNN: "Concerning but not surprising"

A spokesperson for the New York Times said that the suspension is "questionable and unfortunate" and added that they hope "Twitter provides a satisfying explanation for this action."

CNN in a statement said that "the impulsive and unjustified suspension" is concerning "but not surprising.''

"We have asked Twitter for an explanation, and we will reevaluate our relationship based on that response,'' read the statement.

Sarah Reese Jones, a political analyst and news commentator with PoliticusUSA, said that "Nothing says free speech like suspending journalists who cover you."

Some of the journalists who were suspended had been tweeting about the shutting down of an account named @Elonjet on Wednesday.

The account had more than half a million followers.

Elon Musk had vowed not to pull down @ElonJet

The account named @Elonjet was owned by Jack Sweeney and used publicly available information to track the movement of Musk's jet.

On Wednesday, Musk said that a car in Los Angeles carrying one of his children was followed by a "crazy stalker." He blamed Sweeney's account for the alleged incident.

In a tweet, he said that legal action is now being taken against Sweeney.

Twitter employees file lawsuit amid mass layoffs

After the suspension, Sweeney tweeted from his personal account and said "Well it appears @ElonJet is suspended." Soon his personal account was also taken down.

In January, Musk had offered 20-year-old Sweeney $5000 to shut down the account tracking his jet.

Earlier in November,  shortly after the billionaire took over Twitter, he pledged to not touch the account even though it was a "direct personal safety risk."

Twitter changes its media policy

On Wednesday, Musk tweeted that "Any account doxxing real-time location info of anyone will be suspended, as it is a physical safety violation."

Doxxing refers to revealing someone's identifying information such as home address or phone number which makes them vulnerable to abuse.

After suspending Sweeney's account Twitter updated its media policy. "You may not publish or post other people's private information without their express authorization and permission," it said.

On Thursday morning Musk said that "same doxxing rules apply to "journalists” as to everyone else."

In another tweet he said "criticizing me all day long is totally fine, but doxxing my real-time location and endangering my family is not."

jsi,ns/es (AFPE, Reuters, APE)