Twitter's Suspension of Journalists Could Bring Musk More Legal Troubles

European official threatens sanctions over potential violations of media freedom

Close-up of Elon Musk's Twitter profile displayed on a smart phone.

Getty / Chesnot

Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic are speaking out against Twitter and its owner Elon Musk after the embattled social media company suspended the accounts of a competitor and several journalists, many of whom have written critically of Musk.

On Dec. 15, the Twitter accounts of journalists from publications including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN were suspended, allegedly for sharing real-time updates about Musk's whereabouts. Several of the journalists whose accounts were suspended had tweeted about Twitter's decision on Dec. 14 to suspend an account, @elonjet, that relayed publicly-available information about the location of Musk's private jet.

Key Takeaways

  • Twitter's suspensions of numerous journalists critical of owner Elon Musk could bring additional legal trouble.
  • The vice president of the European Commission for Values and Transparency warned of potential sanctions over the action.
  • In the last two weeks, Twitter has faced threats from regulators over its use of office space and personal advertising policies, and a new lawsuit regarding layoffs after Musk's arrival.

U.S. Representative Lori Trahan, a Massachusetts Democrat and a member of the House committee on electronic communications and the internet, tweeted on Dec. 15 that Twitter had assured her this week that the company would not retaliate against critical journalists. Věra Jourová, vice president of the European Commission for Values and Transparency, told Musk via tweet on Dec. 16 that the EU's Digital Services Act provides "red lines" to protect media freedom, warning of "sanctions, soon."

Thursday's suspensions add to Twitter's growing list of legal issues. The company has reportedly stopped paying rent on office space in San Francisco and may deny severance payments to thousands of former employees laid off since Musk took over a month and a half ago. Some of those fired by Musk filed a class action lawsuit last month alleging violations of labor laws. A different group of former employees filed a separate class action suit alleging that Musk's layoffs unfairly targeted women.

Twitter also is coming under increased scrutiny from regulators. Last week, the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection said it was looking into a complaint that Twitter had converted office space into bedrooms as employees adapt to Musk's high-intensity corporate culture. And another European regulator, the Irish Data Protection Commission, is investigating reports that Musk may force some users to accept personal advertising if they don't buy a subscription service.

For his part, Musk has also threatened to initiate lawsuits. The billionaire said on Dec. 14 he was taking legal action against Jack Sweeney, the college student who ran @elonjet and several other accounts that used flight records to track the location of private jets, including Musk's.

All of this could mean further financial trouble for Twitter. The platform is forecast to lose 32 million users over the next two years. And advertisers, who are reining in ad spending across the board in anticipation of a recession, are fleeing Twitter en masse. Since Musk's takeover, the company has lost half of its top advertisers, as businesses work to distance themselves from the company and Musk's controversial policies.

Article Sources
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  1. New York Times. "Twitter Suspends Accounts of Half a Dozen Journalists."

  2. Twitter. "@RepLoriTrahan. 8:54 PM, Dec. 15, 2022."

  3. New York Times. "Twitter Suspensions Draw International Outrage."

  4. Twitter. "@VeraJourova. 4:52 AM, Dec. 16, 2022."

  5. New York Times. "Musk Shakes Up Twitter’s Legal Team as He Looks to Cut More Costs."

  6. Reuters. "Twitter says lawsuit over layoffs lacks merit and has delayed severance pay."

  7. The Hill. "Former Twitter employees file class-action lawsuit, alleging company targeted women in layoffs."

  8. Washington Post. "Musk defends bedrooms at Twitter headquarters as San Francisco investigates."

  9. TechCrunch. "Reports of Musk forcing tracking ads on Twitter put him on a costly collision course with EU privacy laws."

  10. Business Insider. "College student who tracks Elon Musk's jet says he's not concerned about possibly being sued by the billionaire: 'There isn't much ground for him to stand on'."

  11. The Guardian. "Twitter ‘to lose 32m users in two years after Elon Musk takeover’."

  12. Digiday. "Ad spending forecast: cloudy with a chance of recession."

  13. Media Matters for America. "In Less Than a Month, Elon Musk Has Driven Away Half of Twitter's Top 100 Advertisers."

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