Twitter on Wednesday permanently suspended an account that tracked the location of Elon Musk’s private jet, despite the social media company’s owner last month vowing, “My commitment to free speech extends even to not banning the account following my plane, even though that is a direct personal safety risk.”
The @ElonJet account, which had amassed more than 500,000 followers, was removed as the company posted a new set of edicts that appeared to be designed specifically to justify the removal of the jet-tracking account. The move comes after Musk has reinstated previous Twitter rule-breakers and stopped enforcing the platform’s policies prohibiting Covid-19 misinformation.
The @ElonJet account, run by Jack Sweeney, a 20-year-old Florida college student, used publicly available flight tracking information to build a Twitter bot that tweeted every time Musk’s Gulfstream took off and landed at an airport. The last post from the account prior to the suspension showed Musk’s jet taking off from Oakland, California, on Monday and landing in Los Angeles 48 minutes later.
Sweeney woke up Wednesday morning to a message from Twitter informing him @ElonJet had been permanently suspended. Later in the day his personal account and other jet-tracking accounts he ran were also shut down by the company.
The account had long been a thorn in Musk’s side. According to screenshots Sweeney shared with CNN, Musk reached out to him last December through a Twitter private message asking, “Can you take this down? It is a security risk.”
Sweeney, a student at the University of Central Florida, recalled his surprise receiving the message in an interview with CNN Wednesday.
“I was about to go to sleep, and I was in a normal college dorm and I remember telling my roommate, ‘Hey, Elon Musk just direct messaged me.”
The billionaire then offered Sweeney $5,000 to shut down the account. Sweeney countered the offer, raising it to $50,000, writing, “It would be great support in college and would possibly allow me to get a car maybe even a [Tesla] Model 3.” After some back and forth, Musk responded, “Doesn’t feel right to pay to shut this down.”
Sweeney said he setup @ElonJet initially because he was a Musk fan. “It gives you just another view that a lot of people don’t know about where [Musk] is going and might give you clues into what new business is going on,” he said.
The enterprising student believes he was tipped off Saturday that his account was being targeted by the social media company’s management.
Sweeney said he received an email from an anonymous person purporting to be a Twitter employee that included a screenshot showing an internal company message from Ella Irwin, Twitter’s new head of trust and safety, asking staff to “apple heavy VF to @elonjet immediately.”
In Twitter parlance, “VF” means “visibility filtering” which throttles the reach of certain accounts.
CNN has attempted to reach Irwin and Twitter for comment.
As part of its new policy announced Wednesday, Twitter said it will “prohibit sharing someone else’s live location in most cases.”
“You can still share your own live location on Twitter,” it said. “Tweets that share someone else’s historical (not same-day) location information are also not prohibited by this policy.”
Musk also posted his justification for the new policy. “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,” he wrote.
The restrictions around location sharing were not part of Twitter’s existing policies until this week.
Data from the Internet Archive shows the company updated its “private information and media policy” to add a clause that prohibited the sharing of live location data, ” we will remove any tweets or accounts that share someone’s live location,” it read.
Asked if he planned to comply with the new policy, Sweeney told CNN he would begin delaying posting the whereabouts of Musk’s jet for 24 hours, “but just on Twitter.”