Elon Musk’s decision to suddenly ban prominent tech journalists from Twitter is sparking a backlash from lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic.
In Europe, the German Foreign Office tweeted his concerns about the impact Musk’s moves could have on press freedom, while a senior EU official said Twitter must abide by the bloc’s rules or face possible sanctions.
Věra Jourová, the European Commission’s Vice-President for Values and Transparency, said the “arbitrary suspension” of journalists was “worrying” and warned that the company could face penalties as a result.
“The EU’s Digital Services Act requires respect for media freedom and fundamental rights. This is reinforced by our #MediaFreedomAct,” said Jourová in a post on twitteradding that Musk “should be aware of that.”
“There are red lines,” she continued. “And soon sanctions.”
In the United States, numerous Democratic lawmakers took Musk to task after his company suspended the accounts of several journalists Thursday night, including CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, The New York Times’ Ryan Mac and independent journalist Aaron Rupar.
New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said she understands Musk’s feelings of vulnerability as a public figure, “but slipping into abuse of power + unpredictable banning of journalists only increases the intensity around you.”
“Take a swipe and dump proto-fascism,” she tweeted.
Massachusetts Rep. Lori Trahan suggested the suspensions directly contradicted assurances Twitter had given its employees just hours earlier. “My team met @Twitter today,” Trahan tweeted Thursday night. “They told us they will not take revenge on independent journalists or researchers who publish criticism of the platform. Less than 12 hours later, several technology reporters were suspended. What’s up @elonmusk?”
Thursday’s meeting with Twitter’s government affairs representative was previously scheduled, said Francis Grubar, a spokesman for Trahan, in response to doubts about academic researchers’ continued access to Twitter following layoffs at the company. The suspensions later that day “immediately caught our attention,” Grubar told CNN in a statement.
Neither Musk nor Twitter responded to a request for comment Thursday night, and the platform didn’t explain exactly why the journalists were banned from the platform.
Musk falsely claimed the journalists violated his new “doxxing” policy by sharing his live location, amounting to what he described as “assassination coordinates.” CNN’s O’Sullivan didn’t share the billionaire’s live location.
Shortly before his suspension, O’Sullivan reported on Twitter that the social media company suspended the account of an up-and-coming competitive social media service, Mastodon, which has allowed the continued posting of @ElonJet, an account covering the location released by Musk’s private jet.
Other reporters who were suspended Thursday had also recently written about the account.
European leaders previously said they were monitoring how Musk’s takeover of Twitter would impact the platform. Thierry Breton, a senior EU official, warned Musk in late November that the social media platform needed to take significant steps to comply with the bloc’s content moderation laws.
“Twitter must implement transparent user policies, significantly increase content moderation and protect freedom of expression, resolutely fight disinformation and limit targeted advertising,” Breton said at the time. “All of this requires sufficient AI and human resources, both in terms of volume and skills. I look forward to progress in all of these areas and we will assess Twitter’s readiness on the ground.”
Musk had some Democratic defenders. California Rep. Ted Lieu suggested that it was inappropriate for Congress to hold hearings on Musk’s handling of the suspended accounts because “it’s not the government’s job to tell Twitter who to ban, who to suspend, or who to promote.” “. The first amendment prevents Congress from regulating private company speech, he added.
But California Rep. Ro Khanna, whom Musk has praised for criticizing Twitter’s decision to suppress the New York Post’s 2020 Hunter Biden laptop story, told CNN, “It’s one thing to say you have the right to the First Amendment, but when you’re one of the world’s leading innovators, you also have a certain responsibility, and I just don’t think it suits him, it doesn’t look good. And I would tell him that personally.”
– Chris Liakos, Oliver Darcy, Eve Brennan and Nadine Schmidt contributed coverage.