Twitter has suspended an account that used publicly available flight data to track Elon Musk’s private jet, despite a pledge by the social media platform’s new owner to keep it up because of his free speech principles.
Tweets from the widely-followed @elonjet account were no longer viewable on Wednesday. The account had more than 526,000 followers as of Tuesday.
“Account suspended,” says a note that appears when clicking on the account’s handle. “Twitter suspends accounts that violate the Twitter rules.”
Started in 2020 by then-teenage programmer Jack Sweeney, the account automatically posts the Gulfstream jet’s flights with a map and an estimate of the amount of jet fuel and carbon emissions it expended.
“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 tweeted on November 6.
Sweeney runs similar “bot” accounts tracking other celebrities’ airplanes.
Sweeney 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 Wednesday, Twitter appears to have suspended all of them, including Sweeney’s personal account. He still operates accounts tracking Musk’s jet on rival social platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.
Sweeney’s personal Twitter account posted a screenshot showing a notice from Twitter that said @elonjet was permanently suspended. The note did not specify a reason for the permanent ban. Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.
“He said this is free speech and he’s doing the opposite,” said Sweeney, 20.
Sweeney had days earlier accused Musk’s Twitter of using a filtering technique to hide his tweets, and revealed what he said were leaked internal communications showing a Twitter executive ordering her team to suppress the account’s reach.
Musk has previously criticised that filtering technique — nicknamed “shadowbanning” — and alleged that it was unfairly used by Twitter’s past leadership to suppress right-wing accounts. He has said the new Twitter will continue to downgrade the reach of negative or hateful messages but will be more transparent about it.
In his push to loosen Twitter’s content restrictions, he has reinstated other high-profile accounts that were permanently banned for breaking Twitter’s rules against hateful conduct, harmful misinformation or incitements of violence.
In the weeks since the Tesla CEO took over Twitter after buying it for $44bn (£36 billion) in late October, the @elonjet account has chronicled Musk’s many cross-country journeys from his home base near Tesla’s headquarters in Austin, Texas, to various California airports for his work at Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters and his rocket company SpaceX.
It showed Musk flying to East Coast cities ahead of major events, and to New Orleans shortly before a December 3 meeting there with French President Emmanuel Macron.
In a January post pinned to the top of the jet-tracking account’s feed before it was suspended, Sweeney wrote that it “has every right to post jet whereabouts” because the data is public and “every aircraft in the world is required to have a transponder”, including Air Force One that transports the US president.
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