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Journalists Say Elon Musk Needs to Reinstitute Monitoring of Twitter

January 12, 2023

Concerns linger over Twitter's stance on free expression and safety since Elon Musk took over the platform in a $44 billion deal.

Since taking ownership in late October, Musk has instituted changes including dissolving an oversight review channel, laying off a large portion of the team focused on combating misinformation, and suspending the accounts of several U.S. journalists.

Two media advocacy groups on Wednesday called on Musk to reverse course and implement policies to protect the right to legitimate information and press freedom.

In a joint letter to Twitter, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) voiced "alarm" that Musk had undermined the legitimacy of Twitter by dissolving the site's oversight review panel that checked postings for their truthfulness and laying off the majority of Twitter staff who helped combat misinformation.

The journalists' groups also criticized Musk for "arbitrarily reinstating the accounts of nefarious actors, including known spreaders of misinformation," and its suspension of several reporters, including VOA's chief national correspondent, Steve Herman.

"Twitter's policies should be crafted and communicated in a transparent manner … not arbitrarily or based on the company leadership's personal preferences, perceptions and frustrations," said the two organizations.

The groups also said Musk should reinstate Twitter's Trust and Safety Council to review content posted on the site and better monitor attempts to censor information and penalize some individuals, including many journalists.

"Transparency and democratic safeguards must replace Musk's capricious, arbitrary decision-making," said Christophe Deloire, secretary-general of RSF.

In December, Twitter notified members of the Trust and Safety Council that the advisory group had been dissolved.

The email to the group said Twitter would work with partners through smaller meetings and regional contacts, said CPJ, a media rights organization that was a member of the council along with RSF.

"Mechanisms such as the Trust and Safety Council help platforms like Twitter to understand how to address harm and counter behavior that targets journalists," CPJ President Jodie Ginsberg said in a statement. "Safety online can mean survival offline."

Twitter also has continued its suspension of some journalists, saying it will restore their accounts only if certain posts are deleted.

Those suspended had tweeted about @ElonJet, an account that uses publicly available data to report on Musk's private jet. That account was also suspended.

Musk had said on Twitter that the @Elonjet account and any accounts that linked to it were suspended because they violated Twitter's anti-doxxing policy.

Doxxing is maliciously publishing a person's private or identifying information — such a phone number or address — on the internet.

The @Elonjet Twitter account, however, used publicly available data. Additionally, none of the journalists who had tweeted about Musk and his shutdown of the account had tweeted location information for his plane. They did report that the @Elonjet account had moved to another platform and named the platform.

Some of the journalists have had their accounts restored after removing content. But VOA's Herman is still suspended from the platform after refusing to remove tweets.

The veteran correspondent said he was notified this week that his appeal against the permanent suspension was denied. The reason: violating rules against "posting private information."

Before the account was suspended, Herman had more than 111,000 followers.

"Based on what Musk has previously tweeted and recent media reports, I have concerns that if I don't give into the demand to delete several posts and reactivate @W7VOA, my Twitter account will eventually be deleted for inactivity or auctioned off," he told VOA.

Herman, like other journalists, migrated to other social media platforms including Mastodon, where he gained 40,000 followers. But, he said, "Neither platform has yet to achieve critical mass and thus the influence of Twitter, especially for journalists and policymakers."

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