Musk reinstates some reporters on Twitter.  But their businesses never left.

Musk reinstates some reporters on Twitter. But their businesses never left.


When Twitter abruptly suspended the accounts of several prominent journalists on Thursday night – in response to a puzzling claim by new owner Elon Musk that they had endangered his safety – media bosses were quick to protest.

The New York Times called the suspensions “questionable.” CNN said it would “re-evaluate” its relationship with Twitter. The Washington Post demanded that Twitter reinstate the account of one of its tech reporters “immediately,” noting that he had simply reported accurately on Musk. One newspaper startup, Puck, said it would pause its paid advertising campaign on Twitter, while another, Semafor, was evaluating its own marketing campaign, according to a spokesperson.

But without exception, these media organizations continued to tweet at their usual pace Thursday night and Friday – using their own official accounts to promote their latest stories.

Musk justified the suspensions by accusing the reporters of posting “essentially assassination coordinates” for him and his family – a reference, apparently, to their reporting and tweets about Twitter’s decision to suspend an account, @ElonJet, which used public flight data to share the location of Musk’s private plane.

The Post found no evidence that the reporters in question had shared any information about Musk or the whereabouts of his family.

Early Saturday, after an informal Twitter poll by Musk, he said suspensions would be lifted immediately for “accounts that doxxed my position,” and several journalist accounts reappeared. Yet the backlash epitomized the adversarial and seemingly codependent relationship between news media and social media.

In the 15 years since sites like Twitter and Facebook exploded in popularity, mainstream news outlets have decided to view them as much of an opportunity as a threat – powerful new vectors for spreading information directly on the screens of avid readers. Publishers have invested heavily in staff whose primary role is to refine and promote stories on social media; publishers reward journalists who have amassed tens of thousands of Twitter followers for the traffic they can bring to their sites.

Some managers started wondering if the Twitter traffic was really worth it. Yet Friday’s modest response to a move that has drawn widespread rebuke from free speech advocates — as well as the European Commission, the United Nations and members of Congress — suggests they won’t. won’t be leaving any time soon.

“How [else] will they spread the word? Unfortunately, Twitter is still the only real game in town,” said Vivian Schiller, a former NPR president who also served as Twitter’s news chief in 2014. but he has us on a barrel,” she added, until another social media platform came along to rival her.

At least nine journalists, including Washington Post technology reporter Drew Harwell and New York Times reporter Ryan Mac, have been hit with suspensions, which the American Civil Liberties Union said were “impossible to reconcile with aspirations for freedom.” freedom of expression of Twitter”.

By early Saturday, some of those accounts had returned, but others appeared to remain locked until the offending tweet was deleted.

“I don’t know why I got suspended,” Business Insider’s Linette Lopez told The Post on Friday, “and I haven’t heard anything from Twitter.” Lopez noted that she did not write or tweet about Musk’s flight data controversy, but did share court documents highlighting how Musk harassed critics and revealed personal information about them. in the past. His account was still suspended early Saturday.

Free speech has been a rallying cry for Musk, the billionaire owner of Tesla and SpaceX, since he first decided to buy Twitter this year and then made a point of rolling back many of the company’s earlier policies. campaign against hate speech and misinformation, rolling back a nearly two-year ban on former President Donald Trump.

But even in conservative-leaning media, where Musk has been warmly praised for reinstating Trump and other right-wing accounts, the suspensions have not been uniformly welcomed.

On Friday morning, some of the hosts of the conservative Fox News talk show “Fox & Friends” expressed bewilderment. “It’s crazy,” said co-host Brian Kilmeade. “If they only criticized [Musk]he has to explain why these people were suspended,” said co-host Steve Doocy.

Ben Shapiro, founding editor of the Daily Wire, admitted some “schadenfreudes” about journalists complaining about the move “given their enthusiasm for Twitter’s opaque censorship” – but seemed like a problem with Musk’s argument that the suspended reporters had in fact “doxed” his location. Fox News personality and radio host Dan Bongino said on his show that he disapproves of censoring or suspending journalists’ accounts and said it could have the effect of simply giving them more attention.

Some of the strongest criticism of Musk’s decision came from an ally.

“Twitter’s old regime was ruled by its own whims and biases and it sure looks like the new regime has the same problem,” tweeted Bari Weiss, a former New York Times columnist. “I oppose it either way. And I think journalists who were covering a story of public importance should be reinstated.

Weiss is one of the writers recently tapped by Musk to lead his “Twitter Files” project, in which he released internal Twitter documents on content moderation, as part of his broader campaign to demonstrate that management The company’s predecessor treated the conservative news site unfairly. sand counts.

Despite Musk’s claim last month that Twitter is by far the “biggest click-driver on the internet”, a recent study by social analytics firm DataReportal found it was responsible for less than 8% of clicks. total social media referrals for the month of November 2021.

Media organizations generally do not share detailed data about their web traffic. But a 2016 report using data from social analytics firm found that only 1.5% of publisher traffic came from Twitter. “Twitter has outsized influence,” concluded a Nieman Lab report, “but it doesn’t generate much traffic for most news outlets.”

Meanwhile, media executives have struggled to set standards of behavior for their reporters on social media, where the temptation can be to slip into a more spirited, or more laid-back, or opinionated conversation than would otherwise be the case. allowed in their own professional writing – or to tailor their stories to their particular Twitter audiences.

“The really insidious part of Twitter is that it’s very easy, even for very good journalists, to confuse the reaction they get on Twitter with the impact or reaction their stories or their work in general have” , said Joseph Kahn. , editor of The New York Times, in an interview with The Post in June.

Now, the unpredictability of Twitter under Musk’s ownership further complicates the equation for media bosses.

“It’s a battle between the reputational impact of supporting a volatile platform that simultaneously reinstates dangerous accounts while censoring legitimate journalists, and a journalistic responsibility to stay active in order to counteract misinformation and misinformation. rampant,” said a network official who spoke about the condition. anonymity to speak frankly.

There’s precedent for quitting Twitter: Fox News kept its official account silent from November 2018 to March 2020, apparently out of concern that a photo with host Tucker Carlson’s home address had been shared on the platform. shape. According to metrics published by the network, this had no negative impact on Fox’s web traffic.

In mid-November, CBS News walked away from Twitter for two days; a staff member said the company is concerned it no longer has an official liaison to address security issues after a large exodus of employees under Musk.

For a brief moment on Friday, it emerged that a news outlet was plotting some sort of boycott, when The New York Times announcement that he was canceling a discussion that would be held that day on Twitter’s “Spaces” about the best books of the year.

Instead, a Times spokesperson said the decision was made for “technical reasons”.

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