Twitter suspends account monitoring Elon Musk’s flight paths

Musk had vowed to allow @ElonJet to post but then declared accounts that listed real-time location data would be suspended

Twitter on Wednesday suspended an account that monitors the flight paths of a private jet owned by the social media giant’s new boss, Elon Musk.

Later that evening, the account, @ElonJet, confirmed via tweet it was back online after being suspended for “violat[ing ] Twitter rules”. An hour later, Musk again suspended the jet-tracking account after imposing new conditions on all of Twitter’s users that the sharing of anyone’s current location was not allowed.

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

The account is run by Jack Sweeney, a Florida college student and aviation enthusiast who ran similar “bot” accounts tracking other celebrities’ airplanes. For hours after the suspension of the @elonjet account, other Sweeney-run accounts tracking private jets used by Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and various Russian oligarchs were still live on Twitter.

But by later on Wednesday, Twitter suspended all of them, including Sweeney’s personal account. He also operates accounts tracking Musk’s jet on rival social platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.

It appears that all automated flight tracking accounts utilizing open source data from @ADSBexchange have been banned from Twitter, including @RUOligarchJets.

— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) December 14, 2022

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, the account also began tracking the flight paths of various Russian oligarchs.

The decision to suspend the account underscored concerns about the new Twitter CEO’s unilateral control over content decisions on the platform. On 7 November, shortly after acquiring Twitter for $44bn, Musk tweeted: “My commitment to free speech extends even to not banning the account following my plane, even though that is a direct personal safety risk.”

But on Wednesday morning, Sweeney tweeted: “Well, it appears @ElonJet is suspended.”

He also tweeted a screenshot of a Twitter message that read: “After careful review, we determined your account broke the Twitter Rules. Your account is permanently in read-only mode, which means you can’t Tweet, Retweet, or Like content. You won’t be able to create new accounts.”

Well it appears @ElonJet is suspended.

— Jack Sweeney (@JxckSweeney) December 14, 2022

Twitter, which under Musk has dissolved much of its media department, did not respond to a request for comment.

Over the weekend, Sweeney tweeted that his account had been shadowbanned, meaning that its visibility had been deliberately reduced.

“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 wrote.

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”.

Screenshots show Ella Irwin VP at Twitter Trust and Safety requesting elonjet to have heavy VF (visibility filtering)

— Jack Sweeney (@JxckSweeney) December 11, 2022

The trust and safety council was dissolved on Monday. The same day, Sweeney tweeted that it appeared @ElonJet was no longer banned or hidden.

On Wednesday, Sweeney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

When Musk discovered the @ElonJet account, earlier this year, he asked Sweeney to delete it.

“Can you take this down? It is a security risk,” he wrote to Sweeney, adding: “I don’t love the idea of being shot by a nutcase.”

In February, Sweeney told the Guardian: “And then he offers me $5,000 to make it harder for people to track him and to take down the account, and I make my counter-offer.”

Sweeney replied: “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.”

Musk, the owner of Tesla, which makes electric cars, declined to pay up. He eventually blocked Sweeney on Twitter.


Maya Yang

The GuardianTramp

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