The owner of a Twitter account that’s spent the past two years tracking billionaire Elon Musk’s flight location says his account is being “shadow banned.” That accusation comes despite recent public assurances from Musk that he wasn’t taking action against the account.
The account’s owner, named Jack Sweeney, claims an anonymous Twitter employee told him that the account for his popular ElonJet tracker bot was given limited visibility, “to a severe degree,” starting on December 2. Sweeney then went on to post a screenshot, allegedly showing Twitter’s Vice President of Trust and Safety Ella Irwin asking team members to, “apply heavy VF [visibility filtering] to @elonjet immediately.” Sweeney disclosed the information in a Twitter thread which he called, “MyTwitter Files.”
Sweeney, a first-year student at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, says he uses publicly available transponder data from Musk’s private plane to track its location. That data, which includes the plane’s altitude, latitude, longitude, and heading are then fed into an algorithm he created. The @ElonJet bot then takes that information and Tweets out when Musk takes off and lands.
Hours after he published his thread and after Gizmodo and other media organizations commented on his allegations, Sweeney published a new tweet saying it appeared Twitter had lifted its restrictions.
“It appears @ElonJet is longer banned or hidden in anyway,” Sweeney wrote. “I think Twitter noticed my tweets and back tracked.” Sweeney published a screenshot from a service purporting to track the status of supposedly shadowbanned. Gizmodo was unable to independently confirm those tests and Twitter did not respond to a follow up request for comment.
Though similar trackers exist for other major figures like Mark Zuckerberg, Drake, and Jeff Bezos, ElonJet stands apart because it’s managed to draw the sustained ire of its target. Back in January, Sweeney told The New York Times Musk personally reached out to him over DMs asking him to remove the bot in exchange for $5,000. Sweeney counter offered, saying he would consider deactivating the account for $50,000 or even an internship at one of Musk’s companies. Musk, who’s said he believes social media accounts tracking his whereabouts are “security issues,” reportedly cut off communications with the teen.
Months later, Musk officially announced he intended to acquire Twitter, leading many to wonder if the billionaire would move to ban Sweeney’s bot account. At the time, Sweeney said he was making backup plans to keep the bot active on other platforms, “in case this [Twitter] account disappears.”
Given Musk’s inconsistent rantings in favor of free speech and repeated criticisms of Twitter’s past content moderation philosophy, it was unclear whether he would take action against the account once he officially owned the platform. Musk addressed the issue in early November, saying he would ban the @ElonJet account due to free speech principles.
“My commitment to free speech extends even to not banning the account following my plane, even though that is a direct personal safety risk,” Musk said in the Tweet.
Sweeney replied to the tweet, thanking Musk for his decision and saying the majority of his accounts followers were actually supporters of Musk and his companies.
Gizmodo reached out to Twitter for comment on Sweeney’s claims but has not heard back. Twitter’s communications team reportedly endured major cuts as part of the company’s 3,700 personal layoffs.
Sweeney’s claims as Musk continues to publicize the so-called “Twitter Files” which, amongst other things, have publicized internal documents displaying Twitter’s approach to restricting a certain account’s visibility.
Update 12/12/2022, 4:20 p.m. ET: Added new information from Sweeney.