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‘There are red lines’: Elon Musk faces international outcry after Twitter bans journalists

By Julia Horowitz and Brian Fung, CNN

Elon Musk’s decision to suddenly ban prominent tech journalists from Twitter is fanning a fierce backlash from lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic.

In Europe, Germany’s foreign ministry tweeted its concern with the impact Musk’s moves could have on press freedom, while a senior EU official said Twitter must comply with the bloc’s rules or face possible sanctions.

Věra Jourová, the European Commission’s vice president for values and transparency, said the “arbitrary suspension” of journalists was “worrying,” and she indicated that the company could face penalties as a result.

“The EU’s Digital Services Act requires respect of media freedom and fundamental rights. This is reinforced under our #MediaFreedomAct,” Jourová said in a post on Twitter, adding that Musk “should be aware of that.”

“There are red lines,” she continued. “And sanctions, soon.”

A spokesperson for the the United Nations said it is “very disturbed by the arbitrary suspension” of journalist accounts on Twitter, warning that the company’s actions have set “a dangerous precedent” amid rising threats to press freedom around the world.

Jodie Ginsberg, president of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the organization is “deeply alarmed” by the move and called on Twitter to “immediately restore these reporters’ accounts.”

And numerous Democratic lawmakers in the United States took Musk to task after his company suspended the accounts of several journalists covering him on Thursday night, including CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, the New York Times’ Ryan Mac and the independent journalist Aaron Rupar.

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said she understood Musk’s feelings of vulnerability as a public figure, “but descending into abuse of power + erratically banning journalists only increases the intensity around you.”

“Take a beat and lay off the proto-fascism,” she tweeted.

Massachusetts Rep. Lori Trahan suggested the suspensions directly contradicted assurances Twitter had given her staff just hours earlier. “My team met with @Twitter today,” Trahan tweeted Thursday evening. “They told us that they’re not going to retaliate against independent journalists or researchers who publish criticisms of the platform. Less than 12 hours later, multiple technology reporters have been suspended. What’s the deal, @elonmusk?”

Thursday’s meeting with Twitter’s government affairs representative had been scheduled previously, said Francis Grubar, a spokesperson for Trahan, in response to doubts about academic researchers’ continued access to Twitter following layoffs at the company. The suspensions later that day “immediately caught our attention,” Grubar told CNN in a statement.

Neither Musk nor Twitter responded to a request for comment Thursday evening, and the platform did not explain precisely why the journalists were barred from the platform.

Musk falsely claimed that the journalists had violated his new “doxxing” policy by sharing his live location, amounting to what he described as “assassination coordinates.” CNN’s O’Sullivan did not share the billionaire’s live location.

Shortly before his suspension, O’Sullivan reported on Twitter that the social media company had suspended the account of an emerging competitive social media service, Mastodon, which has allowed the continued posting of @ElonJet, an account that posts the location of Musk’s private jet.

Other reporters suspended Thursday had also recently written about the account.

European leaders previously said they were watching how Musk’s takeover of Twitter would affect the platform. Thierry Breton, a top EU official, warned Musk in late November that the social media platform must take significant steps to comply with the bloc’s content moderation laws.

“Twitter will have to implement transparent user policies, significantly reinforce content moderation and protect freedom of speech, tackle disinformation with resolve, and limit targeted advertising,” Breton said at the time. “All of this requires sufficient AI and human resources, both in volumes and skills. I look forward to progress in all these areas and we will come to assess Twitter’s readiness on site.”

Musk did have some Democratic defenders. California Rep. Ted Lieu suggested it was inappropriate for Congress to hold hearings about Musk’s handling of the suspended accounts, because “it is not Government’s role to tell Twitter who to ban, who to suspend or who to promote.” The First Amendment prevents Congress from regulating the speech of private businesses, he added.

But California Rep. Ro Khanna, whom Musk has praised for having criticized Twitter’s decision to suppress the New York Post’s 2020 Hunter Biden laptop story, told CNN: “It’s one thing to say you have the First Amendment right, but when you are one of the world’s leading innovators, you also have some responsibility, and I just don’t think it’s becoming, it’s not a good look for him. And I’d tell him that in person.”

— Chris Liakos, Oliver Darcy, Eve Brennan and Nadine Schmidt contributed reporting.

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