Musk reinstates reporters on Twitter. However, his companies never left.


When Twitter abruptly suspended the accounts of several prominent journalists on Thursday night, in response to a baffling claim by new owner Elon Musk that his safety had been jeopardized — media chiefs were quick to speak in protest.

The New York Times called the suspensions “questionable.” CNN said it would “reevaluate” its relationship with Twitter. The Washington Post demanded that Twitter reinstate the account of one of its technology reporters “immediately,” noting that it had simply reported accurately on Musk. One news start-up, Puck, said it would suspend its paid advertising campaign on Twitter, while another, Semafor, was evaluating its own marketing push, according to a spokesperson.

But without exception, these media organizations continued to tweet at their usual hectic pace Thursday night and into Friday, using their own official accounts to promote their latest stories.

Musk justified the suspensions by accusing the reporters of posting “basically murder coordinates” for himself and his family, a reference, apparently, to his reporting and tweets about Twitter’s decision to suspend an account, @ElonJet, that had been using data. of public flights to share the location of Musk’s private plane.

The Post could find no evidence that the reporters in question had shared information about Musk or the location of his family.

Earlier Saturday, after an informal Twitter poll by Musk, he said the suspensions would be lifted immediately for “accounts that misled my location,” and several reporter accounts reappeared. Still, the backlash epitomized the contentious and seemingly codependent relationship between the media and social media.

In the 15 years since sites like Twitter and Facebook exploded in popularity, traditional media outlets have decided to see them as both an opportunity and a threat: powerful new vectors for bringing the news directly to the screens of avid readers. Publishers have invested heavily in staff whose primary role is to hone and promote stories on social media; publishers reward journalists who have amassed tens of thousands of Twitter followers for the traffic they can bring to their sites.

Some managers have begun to question whether the traffic from Twitter is really worth it. However, Friday’s modest response to a move that drew widespread criticism from free-speech advocates, as well as the European Commission, the United Nations and members of Congress, suggests they won’t be giving up anytime soon.

“How [else] Will they spread the word? Sadly, Twitter is still the only real game in town,” said Vivian Schiller, a former NPR president who also served as Twitter’s news chief in 2014. “Don’t get me wrong, Musk is a thin-skinned, erratic hypocrite. but he has us over a barrel,” she added, until another social media platform comes along to rival her.

At least nine journalists, including Washington Post technology reporter Drew Harwell and New York Times journalist Ryan Mac, were affected by the suspensions, which the American Civil Liberties Union said were “impossible to square.” with Twitter’s free speech aspirations.”

By early Saturday, some of those accounts had returned, but others appeared to remain locked until the offending tweet was removed.

“I don’t know why I got suspended,” Business Insider’s Linette Lopez told The Post on Friday, “and I haven’t heard anything from Twitter.” Lopez noted that she had not written or tweeted about the Musk flight data controversy, but that she had shared court documents alleging how Musk had harassed critics and revealed personal information about them in the past. Her account was still suspended early Saturday.

Free speech has been a rallying cry for Musk, the billionaire owner of Tesla and SpaceX, since he first moved earlier this year to buy Twitter and subsequently set out to undo many of the company’s previous policies against hate speech and misinformation, reversing a nearly two-year ban on former President Donald Trump.

But even in conservative-leaning media, where Musk has been roundly praised for reinstating Trump and other right-wing accounts, the suspensions were not uniformly praised.

On Friday morning, some of the hosts of the conservative Fox News talk show “Fox & Friends” expressed bewilderment. “This is crazy,” said co-host Brian Kilmeade. “If they were only criticizing [Musk]he has to explain why those people were suspended,” said co-host Steve Doocy.

Ben Shapiro, founding editor-in-chief of the Daily Wire, admitted to some “anger” at journalists complaining about the move “given their enthusiasm for Twitter’s opaque censorship,” but seemed to have problems with Musk arguing that the suspended journalists had actually “misled” their location. Fox News personality and radio host Dan Bongino said on his show that he disapproved of censoring or suspending journalists’ accounts and said it could have the effect of simply paying more attention to them.

Some of the strongest criticism of Musk’s decision came from an ally.

“The old Twitter regime is governed by its own whims and biases and it certainly seems the new regime has the same problem,” Bari Weiss, a former New York Times opinion writer, tweeted. “I am opposed in both cases. And I think that journalists who were reporting on a story of public importance should be reinstated.”

Weiss is one of the writers recently chosen by Musk to lead his “Twitter Files” project, in which he has issued internal Twitter documents on content moderation, as part of his broader campaign to show that the company’s previous management unfairly treated the conservative news site. sand beads.

Despite Musk’s claim last month that Twitter is “by far the biggest click driver on the internet,” a recent study from social analytics firm DataReportal found it was responsible for less than 8 percent of total social media referrals for the month of November 2021.

Media organizations do not normally share detailed data about their web traffic. But a 2016 report using data from the social analytics firm found that only 1.5 percent of publisher traffic came from Twitter. “Twitter has an enormous influence”, concluded a Nieman Lab report“but it doesn’t generate a lot of traffic for most news organizations.”

Media managers, meanwhile, have struggled to set standards of behavior for their journalists on social media, where the temptation may be to indulge in more spirited, more informal, or more opinionated conversation than their own writing would allow. professional, or to tailor their stories to their particular Twitter audiences.

“The really insidious part of Twitter is that it’s very easy, even for very good journalists, to confuse the reaction they get on Twitter with the impact or reaction they get to their reporting or their work in general,” said Joseph Kahn. , executive editor of the New York Times, in an interview with The Post in June.

Now the unpredictability of Twitter under Musk’s ownership is further complicating the equation for media bosses.

“It is a battle between the reputational impact of supporting a volatile platform that simultaneously reinstates dangerous accounts while censoring legitimate journalists, and the journalistic responsibility of staying active to counter misinformation and rampant misinformation,” said a network executive who spoke on condition. of anonymity to speak candidly.

There’s a precedent for leaving Twitter: Fox News let its official account go silent from November 2018 to March 2020, reportedly out of concern that a photo with host Tucker Carlson’s home address had been shared on the platform. . According to the metrics published by the network, it did not have a negative impact on Fox’s web traffic.

In mid-November, CBS News walked away from Twitter for two days; One staffer said the company was concerned it no longer had an official liaison to help with security issues after a large exodus of employees under Musk.

For a brief moment on Friday, it looked like a news organization was preparing some sort of boycott, when the New York Times Announced that canceled a debate that would take place that day in Twitter’s “Spaces” about the best books of the year.

Instead, a Times spokesperson clarified that the decision was made for “technical reasons.”

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