Life Among the Twitter Damned

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer

With a blizzard in the Twin Cities closing day care on Thursday, Aaron Rupar was keeping an eye on his 7-month-old when he got a rush of texts from friends asking why he was suddenly banned on Twitter. “I was thinking, What could I have posted?” he said.

An independent journalist who formerly worked for Vox, Rupar is a staple on politics Twitter, grabbing notable clips from cable news and congressional hearings so his 800,000 or so followers don’t have to tune in all day. “At first, quite obviously I was dismayed because I use Twitter to run my business and it’s kind of my livelihood,” he said. After speaking with a Daily Beast reporter looking into the suspension, he started to figure it out. Earlier in the day, he had tweeted a link to a Facebook page called Elon Musk’s Jet, an account that tracks the flights of Twitter’s new owner based on publicly available data.

On Wednesday, Twitter had banned that account and 24 others that track planes of government figures and billionaires after Musk tweeted last month that the account devoted to his jet was protected by the platform’s free-speech policy. Apparently, by linking to Elon Musk’s Jet on another website, Rupar had violated Twitter’s new rule banning users from sharing people’s “live” location — a rule Musk then broke by posting the license plate of someone he alleges was stalking him.

Rupar was not the only journalist booted: Ryan Mac at the New York Times, Drew Harwell at the Washington Post, Donie O’Sullivan at CNN, Micah Lee at the Intercept, Matt Binder at Mashable, and independent journalist Tony Webster, all of whom cover Twitter, were also permanently suspended, as well as Keith Olbermann. It’s not entirely clear what caused the suspensions, though most of the people made some sort of reference to Elon Musk’s Jet. On Friday, Insider columnist Linette Lopez, who has long covered Musk’s businesses but had not tweeted location details about the plane, was suspended as well.

“It’s not like there was some mass purge,” said Binder, who found out he was banned after playing Lego Star Wars with his 7-year-old son. “These were definitely handpicked.” He thinks his suspension was because of his screenshot showing users what happens if they try to link to Elon Musk’s Jet on an outside site. Twitter displayed a message stating that users cannot post the link, similar to the message in 2020 blocking users from sharing a New York Post story on Hunter Biden. Binder said this was rich with irony due to the recent Twitter Files series promoted by Musk that excoriated Twitter’s old regime for that link ban.

Media outlets have taken the bans seriously. “Twitter’s increasing instability and volatility should be of incredible concern for everyone who uses” the site, a CNN representative said. Twitter did not respond to a request for comment, but Musk tweeted that the “same doxxing rules apply to ‘journalists’ as to everyone else.” On Thursday night, Twitter disabled its live-audio function Twitter Spaces after reporters Drew Harwell and Katie Notopoulos grilled Musk on the suspensions.

For independent reporters, a suspension, if permanent, would be a significant blow. “A journalist at CNN can still write stories for CNN, be on CNN, and has a network to support them, and that’s not really the case for me,” said Webster, who covers the police-accountability beat and has over 30,000 followers. “Twitter is how I’ve built a following over the years; it’s how I’ve connected with sources and gained a readership.”

“It would change the whole economics of what I’m doing to make a living,” Rupar said. “I thought, Wow, this is really kind of a big blow.”

In Twitter’s volatile Musk era — where accounts banned years ago are reinstated and new bans are sometimes overturned — it’s unclear if these suspensions will hold. After learning he was barred, Rupar said he found the contact of someone at Twitter who told him that the suspension was temporary and that the company is now determining how long his account will be offline. They also confirmed that the Elon Jet link was the reason for removal. On Friday, Musk posted a poll asking his followers if the “accounts who doxxed my exact location in real-time” should be reinstated immediately or in seven days. A majority of respondents said the accounts should be back online right now.

When he is reinstated, the suspension will probably change how Rupar operates on Twitter. “You want to be a bold truth-teller and not pull punches, but there’s the reality that I use Twitter as part of my livelihood, so it’s threading the needle,” he said. “I don’t want to get ahead of the game here because Elon could change his mind in two minutes and say, ‘These guys are gone forever’ with an after-the-fact rationale.”

For the time being, Rupar might get a short break from his normal schedule pulling clips for political observers online — at least he won’t have to binge the Sunday talk shows looking for clips that will sizzle online. “It might be an occasion to read a book,” he said.

Update: Some of the journalists have been informed they can have their accounts reinstated if they delete what Twitter claims were the offending tweets.

This post has been updated.

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