They are Watching Everything ALL THE TIME // Technology has created a wild world of civilian journalism and sleuthing

Elon Musk’s Twitter has managed to be a never-ending source of drama. One of the most recent points of contention came after a number of journalists who cover Musk for news outlets like CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post were suspended from the site. After a poll of Twitter users, Musk said that they would be allowed back on the site immediately rather than seven days later, as he had originally planned.

Which Twitter terms of service did Musk accuse these journalists of violating? Doxxing—that is, publicly revealing—his exact location. This was apparently because at least some of the journalists in question linked to the social media accounts of a 20-year-old university student, Jack Sweeney, which showed the real-time locations of the jets belonging to various tech moguls, including Elon Musk. Sweeney’s Twitter accounts had been banned as part of a new rule added by Twitter about doxxing people’s real-time locations.

(Some journalists affected by the suspension claimed that they had merely reported on the banning of Sweeney’s accounts and had not posted links to his accounts on other social media sites. Twitter also banned the Twitter account of rival social media network Mastodon and erased any tweets with links pointing to Mastodon accounts of any sort, after the Mastodon Twitter account linked to Sweeney’s Mastodon account showing Musk’s location.)

Musk’s decision to ban Sweeney and to suspend journalists who linked to him drew charges of hypocrisy, with critics pointing to Musk’s pronouncements about restrictions on Twitter accounts as an unallowable restriction of free speech. Musk had even said that this extended to the account tracking his jet.

For his part, Musk claimed that someone had followed one of his children in Los Angeles and tried to get on top of the car the child was in, an act of stalking that he blamed on the Sweeney account. He said that legal action would be taken against Sweeney and “organizations who supported harm to my family.”

The questions of free speech and press freedom aside (and since Twitter is a private company, they really don’t apply), the story of the jet tracking has emphasized the way in which social media and the modern electronic world have allowed a kind of always-on citizen journalism, one that might impinge on the privacy of public figures but has also helped track war and war crimes and helped solve mysteries, among other things. (Elon Musk himself has claimed that he wants Twitter to promote citizen journalism.) We live in a world where people are always watching.


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