I was suspended from the social media platform by Elon Musk. And I may never tweet again
I now have something in common with former President Donald Trump. Both of us were permanently suspended by Twitter. The circumstances were quite different. Trump’s suspension stemmed from rhetoric fomenting an insurrection and took place under the previous Twitter ownership. He has since been reinstated. My “permanent suspension,” on December 15 last year resulted from tweeting about other journalists who had been suspended from Twitter for tweeting about a banned account that had shared the location of new Twitter owner Elon Musk’s private jet.
Musk subsequently tweeted that the journalists’ accounts had been “restored.” That was misleading. In my case I would not be able to tweet to my 115,000 followers, view my timeline or see the accounts I follow unless I removed three tweets mentioning @ElonJet. I appealed and was informed that my appeal had been denied, putting me indefinitely in a deep level of Twitter purgatory. The only recourse I have, according to Twitter, is to withdraw my appeal and remove the offending tweets, which Musk inaccurately characterized as public dissemination of “assassination coordinates.” But none of the suspended journalists revealed Musk’s real-time location. All they did was mention the banned account that used publicly available information to track his private jet.
For four years as a White House correspondent, traveling with Trump dozens of times, I tweeted in real-time the location of Air Force One and the president’s whereabouts. This was considered public information, released by the White House to all its accredited journalists. No one at Twitter or anywhere else ever accused us of tweeting assassination coordinates.
Twitter first instituted its rules against posting private information late last year, stating users “may not publish or post other people’s private information without their express authorization and permission.” There is an exception, however, for information shared somewhere else online before being posted to Twitter. Despite this, Twitter stated they may take action if the sharing of the information presents “the potential for physical harm.”
Musk made the ridiculous claim that the @ElonJet account and anyone who retweeted its content was guilty of “doxxing” – sharing another person’s personal information, such as their location, without consent.
After Musk bought Twitter, I set up accounts on other emerging social media platforms, Mastodon and post.news. I saw these new accounts as insurance policies – alternatives but not replacements for Twitter should my favorite site’s servers begin to melt down due to the layoffs of tech and other personnel. There was also concern about the deterioration of discourse on the platform and the reinstatement of accounts that had been banned for hate speech, disinformation and personal attacks.
Despite the increasingly hostile environment, I did not plan to abandon Twitter, where up to 100 times daily I reposted my news stories, on-the-site observations of breaking news and retweets of stories from other mainstream journalists and news organizations – all without engaging in opinion.
I did expect to lose my Twitter appeal, although I sensed a small victory in the court of public opinion with an outpouring of protests against my suspension and that of other journalists by members of the U.S. Congress, journalism organizations and others. Since I do not intend to remove the objectionable tweets, as that would be an admission that I did something improper, I may never tweet again from my @W7VOA account.
My insurance policies are already providing benefits. At the time I was banished from Twitter, I had about 3,000 followers on Mastodon. That quickly increased tenfold. On post.news, a simpler and more user-friendly site, I also already have thousands of followers. While the totals pale in comparison to my Twitter followers, I have noticed something unexpected and remarkable: the level of engagement, in the form of comments, like and reposts, far exceeds what I had experienced on Twitter. I am not certain why, but it may be that many Twitter accounts have been abandoned, are bots or the users are just very passive observers.
The U.S. Senate, under control of the Democrats, may look into this during 2023. That request has been made by the Government Accountability Project.
I know that some users who fled what they considered the toxicity of Twitter are now exploring other platforms. They have told me they no longer want to be exposed to politics, disasters and other mayhem. But the majority, 95%, (according to an unscientific online poll I conducted on Mastodon) have encouraged me to post even more news than I did on Twitter.
The news item that seems to generate the highest level of engagement right now on these other sites: the turmoil at Twitter under Elon Musk. Even those who’ve deserted Twitter appear to retain a strong interest in the fate of the influential social media platform and its 400 million users.
Steven L Herman is the chief national correspondent of the Voice of America, the JURIST journalist-in-residence at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and an adjunct lecturer in journalism at the University of Richmond. Steve served as FCCJ president on the 1997-98 board and is a life member of the club. His comments here reflect his personal views and not those of any of the above institutions. He can be found on Mastodon: @email@example.com.