Ethics Observations On Musk’s Blitzkrieg Twitter Account Bans


Twitter (aka Elon Musk) suspended the accounts of journalists from CNN, the New York Times, The Washington Post and other news sources yesterday, without warning and initially without giving any explanation.

Later last night, Musk tweeted, “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.”

This morning, however, there was still confusion over whether all of those suspended had engaged in doxxing.


1. There is still not enough information about the reasons for the suspensions or bans to make a fair assessment of the basic ethics analysis starting point, “What’s going on here?” That did not stop pundits and journalists from making assumptions and issuing condemnation or expressing glee over Musk’s actions.

2. The sudden action launched an outbreak of hypocrisy on all sides of the ideological divide, with previous advocates for free expression on Twitter without bias expressing satisfaction at, for example, Keith Olbermann’s loss of his tweeting privileges, and censorious progressives who had been arguing that Twitter, as a private company, had no obligation to allow anyone to tweet, pronouncing Musk’s move as heinous.

3. The fact that all of the journalists banned were left-biased, worked for left-biased mainstream media outlets and had been critical of Musk certainly made the episode look politically motivated and like payback. Several wags compared Musk to Michael Corleone “settling family business” in the bloody climax of “The Godfather.”

4. One ethical conclusion I feel I can make fairly is that Musk’s conduct at very least had “the appearance of impropriety.” It looked like payback, and worse, it looked like ideological discrimination, as all of the banned journalists are Democrat/progressive flacks, like Olbermann, just not as obnoxious. The likely fact that only anti-Musk journalists would have been tracking his family’s travel and whereabouts—apparently the precipitating incident behind the bannings—doesn’t alter the reality that only progressive journalists were being banned, just as the previous Twitter regime had only banned conservatives.

5. Musk has to be trusted if his pledge to make freedom of expression unrestricted by viewpoint favoritism Twitter’s mission is to be taken seriously. Yesterday’s actions undermine that trust, and give his adversaries and critics reason to be skeptical. Even if it turns out that Musk was justified, his timing and execution were incompetent and irresponsible.

6. The most positive interpretation of the episode: Twitter is in flux and chaos as Musk takes over a horribly run social media platform, and many want him to fail. Some emergency measures that Musk deems necessary in his judgment as CEO may be required in this crucial period, and they should not be interpreted as signifying a permanent operating philosophy.

7. The most pessimistic interpretation, in the absence of crucial information, is that Musk is impulsive and like all entrepreneurs, autocratic by nature. He succeeds because his instincts are right more often than wrong, at least so far, but expecting due process and consistent standards may be too much. As they used to say about Massachusetts weather (maybe they still do), “If you don’t like how Twitter is being managed, wait a minute.” Australian film-maker Francis Maxwell tweeted yesterday that Musk was literally making “shite” up as he went along. I don’t that analysis is too far from the mark.

8. For example: after buying Twitter, Musk tweeted, “My commitment to free speech extends even to not banning the account following my plane, even though that is a direct personal safety risk.” But yesterday, Twitter suspended the @ElonJet account set up by college student Jack Sweeney that tracked Musk’s private jet movements. Later, Twitter took out accounts tracking other celebrities such as Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Oprah, Jay-Z and Tom Cruise. At least one group was happy: the National Business Aviation Association had stated earlier this year,

“The real-time tracking and online broadcasting of business aviation flights—by anyone, anywhere in the world, with any motive—raises many serious concerns, including with regard to passenger security, safety and corporate espionage. These concerns have been repeatedly reflected in bipartisan congressional legislation requiring the FAA to provide an opt-out from real-time flight tracking. This latest example of flight-stalking underscores the need to ensure that people aren’t required to surrender their personal security and safety just because they get on an airplane.”

9. Very off the mark, but typically so, was Medhi Hasan, an anchor with MSNBC, who tweeted, “So if there’s harm to Musk or his family, then it isn’t free speech and it is restricted. Harm to anyone else or their families, it’s free speech – nay, it’s the future of Western civilization! – and there can be no restrictions.”

You see, to the censorious and totalitarian Left, the actual physical harm threatened by doxxing is indistinguishable from the “harm” inflicted by ideas and opinions that oppose or challenge progressive cant. I can understand the impulse of free speech advocates to applaud seeing journalists who would probably agree with Hasan kicked to the curb. But that impulse should be resisted.

20 thoughts on “Ethics Observations On Musk’s Blitzkrieg Twitter Account Bans

  1. If Musk/Twitter decides that posting real-time location information of anyone – heads of state, SCOTUS justices, government officials, etc. AS WELL AS the likes of Joel Mundt – is not tolerated, fine. But yeah, if he picks and chooses just certain sides against whom to the apply the rule, Twitter/Musk is no better than those on the Left already doing it.

    Musk should lead by example, not by mimicry.

    By the way, it does bring up a question. What do we say regarding real-time location information of, say, a criminal on the loose? Is that fair game?

  2. 1) Musk is to Twitter what Trump was to the Presidency. And the Left wing is given him exactly the same grace period they gave Trump. Only Musk doesn’t have a constitution preventing him from taking “retributive” action.

    Trump came about because everyone, even if they couldn’t define or detail what was going on, knew in their bones that the current incarnation of American political system – that is the generational dialogue between Democrats and Republicans – had grown stale and counter productive. New national priorities exist around established values, needs, wants, challenges, and demographic loyalties and the old Republican-Democrat paradigm was still jabbering on like the post WW2 dialogue was still 100% relevant. Nope, Obama presaged the shake up and Trump opened it. The younger Bush was the last president of the old paradigm (and America has gone through a half dozen or so of these “shake ups” in its history) and the following two were transitional forces.

    Biden is a weird pivot to try to reassert the old order while trying to appeal to newer topics (and is flailing horribly at it – but then again the Left has given him non-topics to elevate to the level of national crusades).

    Well, back to Twitter – the Left has enjoyed a gross control of the “free” speech dialogue for generations. With this control, they’ve been able to *slowly*, *quietly*, *subtly* push the conclusions they want and suppress the conclusions pushed by others. Twitter under hard-core leftist control, would *regularly* but intermittently remove conservative voices. Now, I want us to imagine a wooden yard stick – hold one end of it, and slowly depress the other end. Very slowly but surely it moves and bends and moves and tenses, gradually and imperceptibly one way.

    Now, let go of that end that took forever to achieve the bend it’s currently at. The snap-back is fast, violent, and visible.

    That’s all that’s happened here. The Left doesn’t have control anymore (which is funny, because Musk isn’t a conservative or right winger by any definition – he just so far, seems to hate the wretched way that the Left has controlled discussion). And now they’re throwing tantrums, like they did with Trump. And whether or not they endangered Musk’s family or not – there’s *ZERO DOUBT* that they, doing what they always do, pushed and pushed and pushed the boundaries of civil discourse and, at a minimum, got close to doing what what he accused them of doing – which they could do with impunity before.

    Nah – this is just a taste of the vigorous snap back that the Left has been asking for decades – when they were able to quietly push and subtly push and nefariously push against the people they hate.

    • Oops, the ramble about the political shake up is to be analogous to the twitter shake up – everyone inherently knew – even those to “innocently” benefited from the bias – that Twitter (and mainstream media curated dialogue) was a foul and stale shadow of what it ought to be – a platform for free discourse. A shake up, however chaotic it will be for the time being, is *welcome*.

      I could care less if a few of the nefarious actors in this drama get their feelings hurt over a 7 day suspension. It’s a tiny drop compared to irritation felt for a decade in Twitter and longer in other areas of discourse of conservatives and rightwingers watching the deck consistently stacked against them during “dialogue”.

      • Check out this guy.

        Analogy here to a classroom of kids. One kid chooses to do a difficult project that could benefit the whole class. Half the kids spend the next few weeks relentlessly undermining that kid and trashing his efforts. One day the kid trash talks one of his tormentors. The rest of the tormentors- “man, that kid needs help! He’s got issues!”

  3. Something in his favor: these are suspensions and they have been done in the open. They are evidently subject to being lifted upon further review. I’d suggest this is significantly different from Twitter’s old practice of banning people permanently without even telling anyone and then alluding to some obscure, inapplicable “policy” when the banning became apparent. Not much, but it’s something.

  4. No good comes from real-time location data published on services like Twitter. The only possible use for such information is to harass (or worse) the person being tracked. Musk’s late discovery of this fact does not obviate it in the least. He was right to stop the dissemination of such information on Twitter, and it never should’ve been allowed to being with. Speech who’s only apparent value is to facilitate active threats and harassment of people minding their own business looks like a free speech exception to me.

    Having said all that, Musk’s actions lacked notice, transparency, and proper procedural support. People were scratching their heads about why this happened (regardless of whether or not they were happy about it). As you say, Jack, it gave an appearance of impropriety, or perhaps more technically stated, it appeared arbitrary, capricious, vengeful, and lacked proper notice and procedural support. That’s what we were used to seeing from the old Twitter, and people are perfectly justified for believing “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.

    Musk’s reputation will require some repair. Hopefully he realizes that.

    • What’s the cutoff between doxxing and reporting?

      I 100% agree that what the Left *often* does to conservatives it hates is unacceptable doxxing and should be curtailed.

      But other conduct lies on this same continuum that is fairly called reporting, like what Joel Mundt brings up above. Laying closer to the “doxxing” end of the continuum is what a group of guys do on Twitter that I follow, regarding the Russian invasion.

      These guys help report on the war via geolocation. The voluminous amount of videos and images of combat coming from the war are often confusing for people following the war. Hard to put into context of the over all country. Well the geolocating group does the painstaking work of perusing satellite imagery and locating clues in the pictures and images to a satellite map like Google Earth.

      Once a location is found, they publish the location correlated with the particular video or image in question.

      Now, this is clearly just “reporting” on the war as many of the videos and actions are days to weeks old and contain little “actionable intelligence”.

      However, some of the vids and pics are current enough to locate active front lines. In one instance about 5 or 6 months ago, a Russian news report showcased a large 120 mm Mortar carrying vehicle. Geolocators found where that report was broadcast from, reported the geolocation. Ukrainian drone operators decided to check that spot and turns out the Russians hadn’t moved the mortar vehicle since the report. They promptly blew it to pieces.

      Is *THAT* against the new terms of Twitter?

      Maybe? Maybe not? Is that reporting? Or is that doxxing (even if, at war, that type of “doxxing” would be seen as good old fashioned intel gathering).

      • Michael wrote:

        What’s the cutoff between doxxing and reporting?

        I guess my response would be that, if you really look at this, posting real-time information is not quite the same thing as “doxing,” which is mostly meant (as I understand it) to give personal information which may include an address. There is certainly news value in “doxing,” especially if the person being “doxed” is attempting to conceal their identity and/or other information relevant to news reporting. Whether or not that should be placed off limits is certainly a valid subject for debate.

        On the other hand, I see little news value in posting real-time information about people’s current location that isn’t also accomplished by a delay that allows them time to clear datum. “The President was at a rural location in Pennsylvania today at 6:00 PM” is as valuable to a news service, for reporting purposes, as the instant he gets there.

        However, it is much more valuable to those with an intent to harass, intimidate, or even harm a person to know real-time info. To me, that is the difference.

        Geolocators found where that report was broadcast from, reported the geolocation. Ukrainian drone operators decided to check that spot and turns out the Russians hadn’t moved the mortar vehicle since the report. They promptly blew it to pieces.

        Is *THAT* against the new terms of Twitter?

        I don’t see that as analogous. Operational security of combatants in a war is not like tracking down a private citizen. Combatants are responsible for ensuring operational security of their assets, and if the press is causing problems, they have to deal with that as a risk of the battlefield. It’s the same as a foreign merchant marine captain reporting the movement of a warship. Obviously, navies would prefer that information not to be disseminated, but that’s their problem. I see that as fair game, because again, it’s the responsibility of the combatants to deal with opsec in their respective areas of control.

            • Your response is a valid approach to how to ethically classify what I described. However, Twitter’s policy regarding what Musk does or doesn’t consider “doxxing” is different than your approach. In the situation’s I discussed, how would Twitter’s policy ‘react’?

              • Okay, well, Twitter’s “doxxing” policy includes this statement:

                We also factor in the intent of the person sharing the information. For example, if we believe that someone is sharing information with an abusive intent, or to harass or encourage others to harass another person, we will take action. On the other hand, if someone is sharing information in an effort to help someone involved in a crisis situation like in the aftermath of a violent event, we may not take action. Note: regardless of intent, if the information is not shared during a crisis situation to assist with humanitarian efforts or in relation to public engagement events, we will remove any tweets or accounts that share someone’s live location. (My emphasis)

                So it seems to me that Twitter’s policy refers to individuals, not locations where people may be. In other words, “I am at 12th and Main in Louisville, KY” would not be a violation of the policy, even though other people may be there also. But “I am at 12th and Main in Louisville, KY and Donald Trump is 500 feet away” probably would be a violation.

                As a final example, “I am at latitude x, longitude y, and a Russian tank division is in view” is unlikely to violate the policy because no individuals are identified.

                That’s the way I read it. For further clarification, you’ll have to ask Elon. 🙂

  5. There is at least one video out there of someone stalking Musk’s children and my understanding is that that stalker had some connection to the doxing to intimidate and harass them.

    Musk “might” have over reacted to protect his children but I’m not going officially judge him until I have more information.

  6. It’s Elon’s $44B toy, he can do as he likes with few exceptions but @TheSantaTracker is still up and that’s clear proof of viewpoint discrimination.

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