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The only victim in Elon’s beef with journalists is Twitter

Elon Musk Axel Springer AwardsElon Musk


  • Elon Musk is upping the ante in his battle with the media, but his beef could kill off the platform.
  • Twitter itself knows news and journalists are major drivers of user engagement on its platform.
  • Permanently barring even a small group of media risks having a chilling effect and scaring off advertisers.

Elon Musk’s war against the media continues.

Twitter on Thursday suspended the accounts of several journalists such as New York Times reporter Ryan Mac and CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, possibly permanently, concluding that they had violated a new rule on doxxing.

The new policy, as Musk explained it, bars users from sharing real-time information on a person’s whereabouts. It coincides with Twitter suspending @ElonJet, an account that tweets out the location of Musk’s private jet based on publicly available flight data. The journalists’ only misstep seems to have been linking to this tracker — but both Mac and O’Sullivan said they hadn’t been given a reason for their bans.

The clampdown on media has alarmed peer journalists, press freedom groups, and regulators. Ryan Mac’s employer, the New York Times, described the suspensions as “questionable and unfortunate.” CNN said it has “asked Twitter for an explanation” for Donie O’Sullivan’s ban and will reevaluate its relationship with the social media company depending on the response it gets. 

—Index on Censorship (@IndexCensorship) December 16, 2022


Press freedom concerns aside, the move makes little business sense. By barring journalists, Musk is openly demonstrating his resentment towards one of Twitter’s most active and important userbases, hurting the platform further.

Journalists depend on Twitter, and Twitter depends on them too

By Twitter’s own estimates, journalists count for a lot on its platform.

Around 85% of users turn to Twitter to watch, read, or listen to the news once a day, while 83% of people tweet about the news, according to research the company conducted in the US with YouGov and Sparkler between December 2021 and May 2022.

The relationship between reporters and users is symbiotic, it found. Users “regularly follow news-related Twitter accounts, and around 4 in 5 young journalists rely on the platform for their jobs.

Journalists use Twitter more than any other social media platform, according to research from Pew in June, treating it as a real-time source of information. It offers vital resources for reporters to chase the stories that matter.

The advantage for Twitter is that it gets a bunch of content from professional reporters for free and, at its best, becomes easily more powerful than any single TV channel or publication. But Twitter is less important to news organizations, which gain more readers from Google and Facebook. Twitter needs the news, but the news doesn’t always need Twitter.

Musk has repeatedly shown he misunderstands the importance of journalists to the company and how the news media treats public figures such as himself.

Defending the bans, he contended that if anyone posted the real-time locations and addresses of reporters, the “FBI would be investigating” and that Joe Biden would “give speeches about end of democracy.” 

Musk has himself revealed his own PO box on Twitter before (albeit accidentally) in a tweet showing a letter he received from a Stanford professor

—Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 16, 2022


Confusingly, he has also previously suggested that he does, in fact, want Twitter to be a place of real-time news.

Bans on reporters will exacerbate what is already a bad development for Twitter: The company is losing its most active users, it told staff in an internal report in October seen by Reuters. Heavy tweeters, accounting for around 10% of Twitter’s user base but 90% of all tweets, account for half of Twitter’s global revenue, according to the report. It’s tough to attract advertisers if you’re driving away your own content creators.

Advertisers are also likely to feel jittery if more journalists are thrown off the service. Advertisers want a healthy, active platform to capture attention. A gutted, inconsistently moderated service dominated by one individual is a less attractive proposition. 

Less than a month into Musk’s reign, Twitter was forced to reduce its ad revenue projection for the final quarter of the year from $1.4 billion to $1.1 billion as advertisers had already vastly reduced its spending on the platform, according to The New York Times.

Musk’s inconsistent stance on free speech will bite him

Musk is adamant that he is a “free speech absolutist”, but his decisions this past week throw that stance into question.

Věra Jourová, the EU Commission’s vice president for values and transparency, tweeted on Friday that arbitrarily suspending journalists “is reinforced under our #MediaFreedomAct. @elonmusk should be aware of that. There are red lines. And sanctions, soon.”

—Taylor Lorenz (@TaylorLorenz) December 16, 2022


Several other prominent journalists have spent the past weeks tweeting about where followers can find their work, posting links to their profiles on alternative apps such as Substack, Post News, and Mastodon, alarmed by the apparently random suspensions of peers.

Despite his best efforts, Musk can’t force consensus hatred against the media.

In a poll, Musk asked users if he should “unsuspend accounts who doxxed my exact location in real-time.” A rough majority of 60% of respondents say he should unsuspend the accounts now.

Read the original article on Business Insider