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Twitter Reinstates Suspended Accounts of Several Journalists




Elon Musk said early Saturday that Twitter was reinstating the accounts of several journalists whose accounts were suspended after he had accused them of violating the social media platform’s rules on personal privacy.

Mr. Musk said he was restoring most of the accounts, which had been deactivated on Thursday, after a majority of respondents in his informal Twitter survey voted that the suspensions should be lifted immediately.

But for at least some of the reporters, including Drew Harwell of The Washington Post and Ryan Mac of The New York Times, the restoration of their accounts appeared to be contingent on them deleting posts that Twitter had flagged as “violating our rules against posting private information.”

In Mr. Harwell’s case, he was told to delete a Twitter post reporting on the suspension of Mastodon, one of Twitter’s competitors, according to a screenshot he posted to Mastodon on Saturday. If he attempted to appeal the decision, the message said, his account would remain locked while Twitter reviewed his appeal.

On Thursday evening, Twitter suspended the accounts of several high-profile journalists who had written about Mr. Musk’s ownership of the company, including Donie O’Sullivan of CNN, Mr. Mac and Mr. Harwell.

Some of the journalists had written about Mr. Musk’s earlier suspension of an account, @ElonJet, that tracked the whereabouts of his private plane using publicly available flight data.

In a heated Twitter audio session with journalists on Thursday, Mr. Musk seemed to equate linking to the @ElonJet account in those articles with publishing intrusive real-time location information, or “doxxing.” Some of the people whose accounts were suspended had also written articles critical of Mr. Musk’s stewardship of Twitter.

After the suspensions, Mr. Musk asked Twitter users when the accounts should be reinstated. Roughly 59 percent of the 3.7 million who voted said that the users should be reinstated immediately.

Mr. Musk acknowledged those results in a post just after midnight, saying, “The people have spoken.”

By the early hours of Saturday, most of the accounts had been reinstated. But the @ElonJet account was still suspended, as was the account of Keith Olbermann, a former MSNBC and ESPN host, and that of Linette Lopez, a Business Insider columnist who had published investigations into Tesla, another of Mr. Musk’s businesses.

The account of Susan Li, of Fox Business Network, which unlike the others was suspended on Friday, has also not been reinstated. Ms. Li told Fox that she was suspended from Twitter after posting a link to an aircraft tracking website in an attempt to illustrate the ease in which Mr. Musk’s private jet could be tracked using publicly available data.

Johannes Bahrke, a spokesman for the European Commission, said on Saturday that although the reinstatement of the journalists was “encouraging,” the commission was concerned about the arbitrary nature of Mr. Musk’s decisions.

“These things should happen in a framework, not just because someone decides they should,” Mr. Bahrke said.

He reiterated that if Twitter failed to comply with the Digital Services Act, a set of major European Union regulations for digital services that came into force last month, then the company may be liable for penalties of up to 6 percent of global annual revenue, and even a Europe-wide ban.

Vera Jourova, a vice president of the European Commission, made the same point in a tweet on Friday. “There are red lines. And sanctions, soon.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, also welcomed the news of the journalists being reinstated on Saturday, adding, though, that “serious concerns remain.”

“Twitter has a responsibility to respect human rights: @elonmusk should commit to making decision based on publicly-available policies that respect rights, including free speech,” he said on Twitter. “Nothing less.”

The suspensions had alarmed free speech advocates.

Jodie Ginsberg, president of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said that if the suspensions were a form of retaliation for the journalists’ work, “this would be a serious violation of journalists’ right to report the news without fear of reprisal.”

Mr. Musk, who has repeatedly espoused his commitment to free speech, argued that what he had done was no different from actions taken by Twitter’s previous owners to restrict certain posts about Covid and presidential politics that the platform had deemed misinformation.