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X is (once again) suspending accounts of journalists who have been critical of Musk

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By Kendra Barnett | Senior Reporter

January 9, 2024 | 7 min read

A disgruntled Elon Musk is silencing his critics on X again. It’s a deeply ironic move from the billionaire executive, who has described himself as a “free speech absolutist.”

X app on mobile screen

X is suspending the accounts of journalists who've been critical of owner Elon Musk / Adobe Stock

Editor's note: Since publishing, all accounts mentioned in this story have been reinstated.

On the increasingly dystopian-authoritarian X, formerly known as Twitter, a handful of journalists who have been publicly critical of Elon Musk and his associates woke up Tuesday to find their accounts suspended.

Affected journalists include Ken Klippenstein of The Intercept, Steven Monacelli of the Texas Observer, Alan MacLeod of MintPress News as well as blogger Rob Rousseau and the TrueAnonPod podcast. A handful of meme and parody accounts that poke fun at the billionaire Tesla CEO and his allies have also been suspended, including @zei_squirrel and @theliamnissan.

Daily Dot tech reporter Mikael Thalen shared a statement this morning from Monacelli, who said he had not been told by the company why his account had been suspended. “I can’t think of anything I posted lately that would be worthy of suspension,” he said. “Although I have written multiple critical reports about Twitter/X and Elon Musk in recent months.”

A similar statement was shared on Instagram and Telegram by MacLeod, who wrote: “Today, without warning or explanation, Twitter suspended my account. They told me to check my email for a reason, but no email has been forthcoming. I have never even remotely been involved in any controversy/been reported/been stuck in Twitter jail before, so I assume the real reason is political, especially as high-profile leftist accounts like Rob Rousseau and Ze_Squirrel were also targeted today.”

It’s not the first time that Musk – who acquired the social platform for $44bn in late 2022 and has since driven its value down by a staggering 71.5%, per recent Fidelity data – has suspended journalists from the app in apparent retaliation for critical commentary on his leadership. Just after Musk’s buyout, in December of 2022, in fact, Musk temporarily cut off the accounts of The New York Times’ Ryan Mac, The Washington Post’s Drew Harwell, CNN’s Donnie O’Sullivan, The Intercept’s Micah Lee, Mashable’s Matt Binder, Business Insider’s Linette Lopez, sports and political commentator Keith Olbermann and independent journalists Aaron Rupar and Tony Webster. At that time, the company gave no public explanation of the decisions. When visiting the journalists’ profiles, users were simply met with a message saying that the account had violated the platform’s rules. The December 2022 purge came just hours after Musk went on a similar rampage – suspending more than 25 accounts that track the activity of government and private planes, including his own. Everyday users as well as voices in the media have pointed out the irony of Musk’s eagerness to silence critics. The entrepreneur, a self-described “free speech absolutist,” has upended X’s content moderation practices in favor of a more radically hands-free approach on the platform. He’s even invited a slew of banned users, including Donald Trump and Alex Jones, back on to the platform.

These decisions have invited an influx of hate speech and misinformation on to the platform and have put off advertisers, ultimately hurting the business, which previously relied on ad sales for about 90% of its total revenue.

Now, journalists on the platform are expressing fear about the future of X – a platform that saw much of its growth stem from a ‘public square’-like feel, with access to real-time news and commentary.

One freelance journalist, Erin Reed, posted this morning in response to the slew of suspensions: “If Elon Musk is just straight up banning journalists that expose his friends, this platform is not tenable any more. Any of us who report on things he is opposed to could be next.”

It’s a criticism that’s been made again and again in response to Musk’s antics on the platform. Many users have expressed in an X lookalike with more thoughtful content moderation practices. Potential alternatives, however, including Instagram’s Threads, Discord, Reddit and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey-backed Bluesky, however, have yet to effectively replicate the model and attract the same kind of engagement.

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