Elon Musk supposedly values ​​freedom of expression – and still has the Twitter accounts of prominent US journalists blocked. The United Nations is watching this development with concern.

After several journalists were banned from Twitter, the United Nations has expressed its deep concern about the development of the online network under its new owner Elon Musk. Reporters should not be silenced by the arbitrary suspension of accounts on a platform that purports to be a space for free speech, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in New York.

“In our view, the move sets a dangerous precedent at a time when journalists around the world are facing censorship, physical threats and worse,” Dujarric continued. We have recently seen a very worrying rise in hate speech, climate disinformation and other topics on Twitter. Media and government representatives around the world also sharply criticized Musk and accused him of restricting press freedom at will.

The online service has developed into an important communication platform in recent years: governments, authorities and politicians use Twitter for their public relations work all over the world. Tech billionaire Musk took over Twitter in October and has since caused a stir with controversial actions.

Prominent US journalists affected

On Thursday evening (local time), Twitter blocked the accounts of at least six prominent US journalists. Employees of the “New York Times”, the “Washington Post” and the broadcaster CNN were among those affected. The Washington Post reported that the closures came without warning. The day before, Twitter had blocked an account that could be used to track Musk’s private jet. Some of the journalists who have now been locked out had reported on it, as well as on Musk’s statement that he and his family had been endangered by the disclosure of location data.

In several tweets on Friday night, Musk wrote that the same rules apply to journalists as to everyone else. He was referring to “doxxing,” which is the disclosure of an individual’s personal information, including information such as address. “You posted my real-time exact location, basically the coordinates for an assassination,” Musk wrote. Musk spoke of a violation of the Twitter terms of use. Several US media reported that Twitter initially did not respond to requests for a direct statement.

NYT: “Suspension of Twitter accounts questionable and regrettable”

“Today’s suspension of the Twitter accounts of a number of prominent journalists, including Ryan Mac of The New York Times, is questionable and unfortunate,” said newspaper spokesman Charlie Stadtlander. It is hoped that the bans will be lifted. “The impulsive and unwarranted suspension of a number of reporters, including CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, is worrying but not surprising,” CNN wrote. Many of the now blocked accounts have so far had a high reach. Journalists disseminate research and opinion pieces on the platform.

The Twitter account used to track Musk’s private jet was created by a student who used an automated computer bot to analyze publicly available flight data. Musk had stated in a tweet on Wednesday evening that the deactivated bot account had violated the Internet platform’s user guidelines. The Twitter boss announced in November that he was so committed to freedom of speech that he allowed the account, even though it posed a risk to his security.

Federal government: “Observe that very closely”

The federal government criticized the closures. Deputy government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann said in Berlin that there was growing concern about what was happening on Twitter. “We are observing this very closely and asking ourselves what consequences we could draw from it.” However, no decisions have been made yet.

The Foreign Office tweeted: “Freedom of the press must not be switched on and off at will.” The post referred to various blocked journalist accounts. They could no longer follow the Foreign Office, comment or criticize it. “We have a problem with that @Twitter,” it said.

A spokesman for the Federal Foreign Office said: “From our point of view, freedom of the press is an extremely valuable asset and it must be defended when it is questioned, whether by states or by private actors.”

EU Commissioner threatens sanctions

EU Commission Vice Vera Jourova threatened Musk’s company with long-term sanctions. “The news about the arbitrary suspension of journalists on Twitter is worrying,” wrote the Czech in the short message service. Among other things, she pointed out that the EU Digital Services Act (DSA), the provisions of which will apply throughout the EU from mid-February 2024, require respect for media freedom and fundamental rights. “There are red lines. And sanctions coming soon.”

The German Association of Journalists called on Musk to lift the bans immediately. “It is well known that Elon Musk is allergic to criticism,” says DJV national chairman Frank Überall. “The fact that he bans journalists from Twitter is a fatal restriction on press freedom.” No one gives the Twitter owner the right to use arbitrary acts to undermine the fundamental right to freedom of the press and freedom of expression.