U-turn by Elon Musk who said he would not ban jet tracking account, but has now suspended the account and threatened legal action
Elon Musk who takes pride on calling himself a ‘free speech absolutist,’ has performed a dramatic u-turn this week about a particular Twitter account.
Twitter on Wednesday suspended an account tracking Elon Musk’s private jet in real-time, and the multi billionaire has threatened legal action against the account’s operator.
The now suspended account in question belongs to Jack Sweeney, a 20 year old University of Central Florida student.
Take it down
Musk and Sweeney interacted earlier this year over the Twitter bot @ElonJet that uses publicly available data to track the movements of Elon Musk’s Gulfstream private jet, and post real-time updates of its location on Twitter.
Sweeney also operated similar bots that track private jet activity of tech moguls such as Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, as well as Russian Oligarchs.
Musk in early February sent Sweeney a number of DMs (direct messages), in which Musk asked Sweeney to take down the tracking bot.
“Can you take this down? It is a security risk,” Musk reportedly wrote in a direct message to the teenager. “I don’t love the idea of being shot by a nutcase.”
Sweeney has made public the messages, and Musk then offered Sweeney a deal.
“How about $5k for this account and generally helping make it harder for crazy people to track me?
But the college freshman suggested that a larger payout.
“Any chance to up that to $50K? It would be great support in college and would possibly allow me to get a car, maybe even a [Tesla] Model 3,” Sweeney replied to Musk.
Musk however said it didn’t feel right “to pay to shut this down” and he then blocked Sweeney, but the student noted that Musk had followed his technical advice, after he told the billionaire about a blocking program he could use to counter flight tracking programs.
Sweeney then got around this blocking programming.
Free speech absolutist
In early November, shortly after he acquired Twitter for $44 billion, Musk claimed he was such a staunch advocate for free speech that he would not ban the plane tracking account, despite him calling it a “direct personal safety risk.”
My commitment to free speech extends even to not banning the account following my plane, even though that is a direct personal safety risk
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 7, 2022
But days before his bot was suspended, Jack Sweeney, claimed the account was being “shadowbanned”, meaning that its reach was being severely restricted.
“Internal messages obtained by a[n] anonymous Twitter employee explained to me that on ‘2 Dec[ember] 2022 your account @elonjet was visibility limited/restricted to a severe degree internally,’” Sweeney tweeted.
He then included a screenshot that allegedly showed Ella Irwin, vice-president of Twitter’s trust and safety council, asking her team to apply “heavy VF [visibility filtering] to @elonjet immediately”.
Then on Wednesday Twitter suddenly decided to ban the account. Visiting the account sees the message “Account suspended.”
Sweeney’s other accounts, including his personal Twitter account, were also suspended at the time of reporting.
Musk then tweeted that “any account doxxing real-time location info of anyone will be suspended, as it is a physical safety violation.”
Any account doxxing real-time location info of anyone will be suspended, as it is a physical safety violation. This includes posting links to sites with real-time location info.
Posting locations someone traveled to on a slightly delayed basis isn’t a safety problem, so is ok.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 15, 2022
“Doxxing” is the public release of sensitive information identifying an individual or organisation, such as a home address or phone number.
“Legal action is being taken against Sweeney & organizations who supported harm to my family,” Musk added, alleging that the car carrying his son, Lil X, was followed by a “crazy stalker” last night.
After being suspended from Twitter, Sweeney set up an Elon Jet account on Mastodon.
He also operates accounts tracking Musk’s jet on rival social platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.
Some Twitter users responded and were quick to point to the example of Twitter’s former head of Trust & Safety Yoel Roth, who this week was forced to flee his home with his family, after Musk publicly misrepresented the former executive’s dissertation.
Musk tweets about Roth recalled the QAnon conspiracy movement, which falsely claim that Democratic Party leaders direct a child sex abuse network.
“Looks like Yoel is arguing in favour of children being able to access adult Internet services in his PhD thesis,” Musk tweeted Saturday, attaching a screenshot of Roth’s dissertation.
In the text, Roth had suggested that services like the gay dating app Grindr should adopt safety strategies to accommodate teenagers using their platforms, rather than drive them out entirely.
An online mob of Musk supporters then reportedly sent threats to people Roth had replied to on Twitter.
Musk’s followers also directed harassment at professors who reviewed the dissertation that Roth wrote in 2016, as well as at his graduate school, the University of Pennsylvania.