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Media Suspended on Twitter

December 16, 2022

Elon Musk, the new owner of the social media site Twitter, posted on the platform last month that he was committed to free speech. On Thursday, he suspended the Twitter accounts of several journalists, including the account of VOA’s chief national correspondent Steve Herman.

Followers of Herman, who is a former White House bureau chief, were greeted on his Twitter account with a black screen and the message “Account Suspended.”

Accounts for journalists from broadcaster CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post, as well as some independent journalists, showed similar messages.

It was not immediately clear why the accounts were suspended. VOA's email requesting comment from the media contact listed on Twitter's company website was returned with a "delivery failure" message.

Many of the reporters have written articles or posted about changes made to Twitter by Musk.

In replies to tweets late Thursday, Musk said on the platform: "Criticizing me all day long is totally fine, but doxxing my real-time location and endangering my family is not."

Musk added: "Same doxxing rules apply to ‘journalists’ as to everyone else," a reference to Twitter rules banning sharing of personal information, called doxxing.

Musk had previously suspended a Twitter account, @elonjet, that followed his personal jet, using information that is publicly available. He said his son had been followed by a “crazy stalker,” using information from the account.

While some of those banned had reported on the incident, none had shared location information or content that could be described as doxxing, CNN’s Reliable Sources said in a newsletter.

Musk tweeted Thursday that the doxxing suspensions would last for seven days. Afterwards, a poll was conducted on Twitter to ask Twitter followers when the suspended accounts should be reinstated. After 43% voted for immediate reinstatement, Musk said he would conduct the poll again because too many options were available on the poll.

Herman last reported for VOA News about the Twitter platform in September. On Thursday he was tweeting about the @elonjet case.

“I had been tweeting quite a bit on Thursday evening about this building drama, which had started out with the suspension of a so-called bot account that tweets the location of Elon Musk’s private jet,” Herman told VOA.

In his last tweet, Herman posted a link to a Washington Post article and wrote, “More reaction to the Thursday night massacre of journalists on Twitter.”

Shortly after, his account was suspended. Herman said he can no longer send direct messages or like other users’ posts.

VOA in a statement late Thursday confirmed Herman’s account had been suspended and called on the social media platform to reinstate it.

“Mr. Herman is a seasoned reporter who upholds the highest journalistic standards and uses the social media platform as a news gathering and networking tool. Mr. Herman has received no information from Twitter as to why his account was suspended,” VOA spokesperson Nigel Gibbs said in an email.

“As Chief National Correspondent, Mr. Herman covers international and national news stories and this suspension impedes his ability to perform his duties as a journalist.”

A spokesperson for The New York Times said: "Tonight's suspension of the Twitter accounts of a number of prominent journalists, including The New York Times' Ryan Mac, is questionable and unfortunate. Neither the Times nor Ryan have received any explanation about why this occurred. We hope that all of the journalists' accounts are reinstated and that Twitter provides a satisfying explanation for this action."

CNN in a statement described the suspensions as "impulsive and unjustified" and said it has asked Twitter for an explanation. The broadcaster said it would reevaluate its relationship with the platform based on that response.

David Kaye, a former United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, posted on his account on Mastodon that what is happening at Twitter is “simply intimidation.” He said, “You cover stuff Elon doesn’t like, you're banned.”

Twitter is more heavily using automation to moderate content, over manual reviews, its new head of trust and safety, Ella Iwin, told Reuters this month.

At the time of Herman’s suspension, the veteran broadcast journalist had about 112,000 followers.

Herman told VOA late Thursday that he received a notice informing him the account was permanently suspended. The notice included a link for users wanting to appeal the decision. But when he clicked it, a message read: “No results. Please try searching for something else.”

The changes at Twitter are of interest to global audiences, Herman said.

“It is obviously a growing free press story and people are interested in that because it’s involving this huge social media platform, a man who is, I guess now, the second-richest person in the world. And this is all happening in America, with our Constitution, First Amendment and democracy.”

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