Journalism

Journalists Still Suspended in Twitter Doxing Controversy

©Ymgerman/123RF

A group of journalists who lost access to their accounts in the Twitter doxing controversy are still suspended…for one important reason.

Several journalists found themselves suspended from Twitter after covering a specific user accused of breaking the platform’s rules. While the platform’s owner, Elon Musk, decided to let them back in, there’s a condition they’re not willing to accept. But there’s something I’m not sure I understand about this Twitter doxing controversy.

Before I get to that, for the benefit of those who aren’t familiar with the term, doxing, here’s how Oxford Languages defines it: “the action or process of searching for and publishing private or identifying information about a particular individual on the internet, typically with malicious intent.”

Now that we know this working definition, we can proceed and focus on a specific Twitter user the journalists were reporting on.

The particular user decided to tweet information about the location of Musk’s jet, according to The Washington Post. The tweets that got the journalists suspended in the first place either mentioned or linked to the aforementioned account.

Musk blocked their accounts. Then he held one of his polls to ask the Twitter community whether the journalists should be reinstated. The majority said yes.

But apparently, there was a little catch.

“Twitter has privately demanded that the suspended journalists delete the tweets that drew Musk’s ire in the first place — a condition the reporters have refused to accept,” WaPo reported.

Two sides of the standoff

From a journalist’s standpoint, I can understand their refusal to remove the posts. The Post argues that none of the suspended journalists posted any specific details about Musk’s location. Therefore, the reporters were covering a story without spreading more of the very details Musk feels are problematic.

To remove the posts would be, in their view, admission of some sort of guilt. If they’re covering a story without actually doxing, they’re doing their job.

But I also see at least some of Musk’s standpoint on this. If this user is doxing — providing specific details about the whereabouts of Musk’s jet, Musk himself or his family — some might argue this user’s trying to get someone to take action. Someone with a few screws loose might even interpret the information as an invitation to do so.

If you own a platform like Twitter, you’re well within your right to set the rules you want to set. If you decide that doxing is against those rules, you can govern your platform’s users accordingly.

I imagine Musk’s demand that the journalists actually delete the “offending” posts amounts to a power play. But Musk should know that a journalist isn’t going to delete a post that doesn’t violate rules just because someone’s trying to muscle him to do so.

But here’s what I don’t understand

The offending account, as I write this, has, in fact, been suspended by Twitter. Twitter doesn’t state on a suspended profile exactly why the suspension occurred. But when you visit the profile associated with the accused “doxer” (if that’s a thing), you see the suspension message and no content from that user.

Musk owns Twitter. He determined that doxing was against his platform’s policy. Either he or his moderation team suspended the alleged offender’s account.

If the account is suspended, journalists who cover the story aren’t spreading damaging information if they mention an account no one can access.

If anything, they’re making the public aware of what happens when you violate Musk’s rules — or, at least, what happens when Musk feels you’ve violated his rules. I would think Musk would appreciate the coverage because it gives him the high ground. It allows him to state that Twitter will not allow such privacy violations and those who do so lose their account.

I looked up the Twitter account of one of the suspended journalist, Washington Post reporter Drew Harwell. While there are tweets that mention the user in question, none appear to give any personal or location information on Musk. One tweet appears to be hidden behind a message stating the tweet violates Twitter’s rules.

If that tweet somehow shares information that violates the rules, the fact that Twitter hid the tweet solves that problem. Even if Harwell regained access to his account and didn’t delete the tweet, you still can’t see it.

So the information Musk apparently suspended him over still isn’t visible.

Why would a journalist even need to delete a post no one can see to begin with?

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.

2 Comments

  • There is one other thing to consider.

    The locations of airplanes is public information available online.

    NBC News reported in the article “How is it legal to track private planes like Elon Musk’s?”,
    “The tracking capabilities are possible thanks to a technology called Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast (ADS-B). It’s like global positioning system technology, or GPS, but on steroids. Every three seconds, ADS-B equipment on a plane sends out real-time data about not just the aircraft’s location, but also its altitude and velocity and other critical elements of its journey. That has two main purposes: to avoid midair collisions and to allow people on the ground to know where an airplane is at all times.”

    The question as I see it should the information be easily accessible?

    • I think that’s a very valid question. In this day and age, I’m not sure it’s necessary that everyone should have access to it. Airlines, air traffic control, pilots (within airplanes) — I can see them being able to access. But everyone, no matter who or where they are? Somehow, that seems like a security risk.

      But as long as it is available to anybody, Musk (and others) are free to set rules to prohibit the sharing of that kind of information on their platforms. Then we get into the question of which publicly available information is and isn’t off-limits.

      And from there, back to the question of why are journalists who pointed to an account that’s no longer displaying the data still locked out?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.