Twitter this week permanently suspended an account tracking owner Elon Musk’s private flights despite the billionaire saying in November he would not close the account as part of “my commitment to free speech.”
The @ElonJet account was banned together with the personal account of Jack Sweeney, the 20-year old college student behind the bot. Sweeney utilized publicly available plane tracking data to follow the location of Musk’s private jet in real time.
A post from the account on Monday, which proved to be the last before the ban, showed Elon Musk’s jet’s 48-minute journey, departing Oakland, California and landing in Los Angeles. With 500,000 followers, the @ElonJet account gave Musk sleepless nights.
Twitter prohibits live location data sharing
Earlier this week Twitter revealed new restrictions around sharing details about someone’s live location.
“We take this into consideration because certain types of private information carry higher risks than others, if they are shared without permission,” said the firm in its updated private information and media policy.
Elon Musk defended the new policy saying, “any account doxxing real-time location info of anyone will be suspended, as it is a physical safety violation.” However, “posting locations someone travelled to on a slightly delayed basis isn’t a safety problem, so is ok.”
Any account doxxing real-time location info of anyone will be suspended, as it is a physical safety violation. This includes posting links to sites with real-time location info.
Posting locations someone traveled to on a slightly delayed basis isn’t a safety problem, so is ok.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 15, 2022
Musk previously offered Sweeney $5,000 to shut down the @ElonJet account, but backed off after the University of Central Florida student countered with a $50,000 offer, CNN reported. Sweeney said he would continue to post Musk’s whereabouts outside of Twitter.
ElonJet ban casts doubts over Elon Musk’s free speech mantra
Elon Musk is the world’s richest man. He has an estimated net worth of $177 billion. Earlier this year he paid $44 billion, or $54.20 per share, more than the shares were trading for on the stock market at the time, to acquire Twitter.
However, Twitter has gone into a very strange place since the billionaire took control of the social media firm. The drama started even before he assumed ownership of Twitter on October 28. He had to be sued to complete the deal.
Once in control, Musk started by sacking thousands of employees across core teams and infrastructure. He also banned staff from working remotely. Musk preached free speech in the run-up to his purchase of the platform and continued to do so after the buy.
But the @ElonJet suspension casts doubts over those calls. “I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means,” Musk wrote on his Twitter after announcing the firm’s takeover in April.
“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” he added in a separate statement.
Musk has previously reinstated accounts permanently suspended for breaking Twitter rules. The social media company also stopped enforcing policies that penalize so-called Covid-19 misinformation.
Content moderation: Social media companies’ power
Content-moderation became embedded as part of the Twitter culture long before Elon Musk took control. Jack Dorsey, co-founder and former CEO of Twitter, admitted that he played a role in shaping the content moderation practices that led to the banning of Donald Trump.
He complained that “the Twitter when I led it and the Twitter of today do not meet any” of the principles of resisting “corporate and government control” and that “only the original author may remove content they produce.”
1. Social media must be resilient to corporate and government control.
2. Only the original author may remove content they produce.
3. Moderation is best implemented by algorithmic choice.
— jack (@jack) December 13, 2022
“This is my fault alone,” Dorsey wrote in a blog post. “Moderation is best implemented by algorithmic choice.” Dorsey said social media companies have become too powerful, citing the Trump ban, which happened under his leadership, as an example of that power.
That power has now transferred to an already powerful eccentric billionaire, Elon Musk. The suspension of Jack Sweeney and his Twitter bot tracking Musk’s private flights is the latest demonstration of such influence.