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Elon Musk Kills Twitter Audio Feature After Bizarre Talk With Journalists

It's clear Musk would rather burn Twitter to the ground than hear people question the wisdom of his choices.

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Elon Musk arrives at the justice center in Wilmington, Del., Tuesday, July 13, 2021.
Elon Musk arrives at the justice center in Wilmington, Del., Tuesday, July 13, 2021.
Photo: Matt Rourke, File (AP)

Twitter Spaces, the audio feature that allows people to participate in group chats using the social media platform, has been disabled and it’s not clear whether it will ever return. The move comes after Elon Musk joined a group chat hosted by BuzzFeed reporter Katie Notopoulos on Thursday night, where the Twitter CEO spoke incoherently about his new rules around what the billionaire called “doxxing.”

Musk banned at least 10 different journalists on Thursday night that he alleges shared his location in real time. In reality, those journalists were merely reporting on the controversy surrounding the @ElonJets Twitter account, which pulls publicly available information about various aircraft.

Notopoulos started a Twitter Spaces chat after the ban on journalists, and at least three of the people who had been banned were able to join the conversation, including Matt Binder from Mashable, Drew Harwell from the Washington Post, and Jack Sweeney, the 20-year-old college student behind ElonJets.

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Jason Calacanis, a venture capitalist who was brought on at Twitter during Musk’s acquisition but says he not longer works for the company, also joined the conversation, berating Sweeney and raising wild hypotheticals. Calacanis asked Sweeney repeatedly how he would feel if Musk or his family members were killed, a rather inflammatory question given the fact that there’s no evidence anyone has used @ElonJets to stalk or harass Musk.

Musk has claimed @ElonJets puts his family in danger, but said as recently as a few weeks ago that he’d allow the Twitter account to stay active because he believes in free speech. That obviously changed this week and Musk has even said he’ll take legal action against the man behind the account.

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Musk also joined the Twitter Spaces chat with Notopoulos, but didn’t seem to make a lot of sense during his brief appearance.

“As I’m sure everyone who’s been doxxed would agree, drawing real-time information about somebody’s location is inappropriate and I think everyone on this call would not like that to be done to them. And there’s not going to be any distinction in the future between journalists, so-called journalists, and regular people. Everyone’s going to be treated the same,” Musk said.

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Journalists are obviously the targets of frequent doxxing, especially those who report on far-right movements like QAnon or Trumpism. But Musk seemed to believe his was a special case and that his circumstances were exceptional.

“They’re not special because you’re a journalist. You’re a Twitter... you’re a... you’re a citizen. So, no special treatment. You doxx, you get suspended, end of story,” Musk continued.

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The word “doxxing” has traditionally been used to mean the sharing of private information such as a home address or private phone number in a public manner, but the word can mean different things to different people.

“And ban evasion, or trying to be clever about it... like, oh, I posted a link to the real-time information is obviously a... that is obviously simply trying to evade the meaning. That is... it’s no different from paste... from actually sharing real-time information,” Musk said, clearly struggling to make his point.

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The term “ban evasion” had a very specific meaning at Twitter until Musk took over, meaning someone starting a new account after getting banned on the platform. But Musk obviously has a different definition for that term too.

Notopoulos asked if reporting on the controversy around ElonJets, a high-profile saga since it involves one of the world’s richest people, was enough to ban someone under these new rules.

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“When you’re saying, posting links to it... some of the people, like Drew, and Ryan Mac from the New York Times, they were reporting on it in the course of pretty normal journalistic endeavors. You consider that, like, a tricky attempt at ban evasion?” Notopoulos asked.

“You share a link to the real-time information... ban evasion, obviously,” Musk said.

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“Drew, I don’t think you were posting the real-time information, right?” Notopoulos asked Drew Harwell from the Washington Post.

“You’re suggesting that we’re sharing your address, which is not true. And you’re suggesting...” Harwell said.

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“It is true,” Musk interrupted.

“We never... I never posted your address,” Harwell said.

“You posted a link to the address,” Musk claimed, though it’s not clear how a flight tracker might be called an address.

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Musk has recently claimed that someone was stalking his 2-year-old son, even posting a video of someone he claimed had stopped his car, and has tried to suggest this was a direct result of the ElonJets account. But open-source intelligence researchers have located where the video was taken, noting it was nowhere near an airport and roughly a day later than any flight by Musk’s private jet.

“In the course of reporting about ElonJet we posted links to ElonJet, which are now not online, and are now banned on Twitter,” Harwell explained.

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But then Harwell brought up the way in which Twitter was now blocking links to ElonJet on other social media platforms, similar to how the Hunter Biden laptop story was blocked in 2020, and Musk was clearly caught off-guard.

“Twitter also, of course, marks even the Instagram and Mastodon accounts of ElonJet as harmful, using... we have to acknowledge, using the same exact link-blocking technique that you have criticized as part of the Hunter Biden-New York Post story in 2020,” Harwell said.

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“It’s no more acceptable for me.... for you than it is for me... it’s the same thing,” Musk said incoherently.

There was an awkward silence on the chat as Harwell and the moderators were clearly trying to make sense of what the billionaire was trying to say.

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“So, anyway...” Musk continued.

“So it’s unacceptable, what you’re doing?” Harwell asked.

“No, what... you doxx, you get suspended, end of story, that’s it,” Musk said, before leaving the call.

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Notopoulos tried to ask a follow-up question, but by then it had become clear Musk had left because he was flustered by getting asked real questions, rather than the more typical Twitter Space conversation where far-right Twitter users tell him how great he is.

Elon Musk rages off Twitter Spaces

Typically, after a live Twitter Spaces conversation has concluded, users are able to listen to the conversation. But the chat hosted by Notopoulos was cut short before she ended it herself, and isn’t available in its entirety. Some Twitter and YouTube users have posted clips from the conversation that are still available as of this writing.

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“Huh, appears the recording of this Space is strangely not available, funny that! Thanks to everyone who tuned in! Let’s do it again sometime,” Notopoulos tweeted.

At this point it’s obviously a futile exercise to try and make any sense of Twitter’s rules. Musk’s decision to keep Alex Jones banned, while reinstating several neo-Nazis, makes it clear that content moderation on the platform is based solely on the billionaire’s whims.

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And Musk is completely within his rights to moderate Twitter however he likes, since he bought the platform for $44 billion. But he should stop saying he has some deeper commitment to “free speech absolutism” or whatever bullshit he’s peddling this week. Own what you’re really doing and people will have a little more respect for you.