State Department: Elon Musk’s Twitter bans ‘difficult to square’ with free speech

Elon Musk
FILE – Elon Musk arrives at the justice center in Wilmington, Del., Tuesday, July 13, 2021. According to a filing posted late Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Musk sold another $3.58 billion worth of Tesla stock during the week, but it wasn’t clear where the proceeds were being spent. Musk has sold nearly $23 billion worth of Tesla stock since April, with much of the money likely going to help fund his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

State Department: Elon Musk’s Twitter bans ‘difficult to square’ with free speech

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Twitter CEO Elon Musk’s abrupt suspension of several journalists is “difficult to square” with free speech, according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s team.

“This department’s support for free speech and freedom of the press is well documented,” State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said Friday during a press briefing. “And it is certainly difficult to square how these removals are consistent with promoting free exchange.”

Musk blackballed several prominent media figures in a spiraling crackdown on a teenager who posted updates on Musk’s personal jet, gleaned from publicly available flight information, which the billionaire tech mogul regards as a security risk. The decision drew scorn across Twitter on Thursday, in part due to his previous pledge to allow the account to operate, but the subsequent move against journalists whom he deemed complicit in “doxxing” him raised the specter of a clash with government regulators around the world.

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“News about arbitrary suspension of journalists on Twitter is worrying,” European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova tweeted Friday morning. “EU’s Digital Services Act requires respect of media freedom and fundamental rights. This is reinforced under our Media Freedom Act.”

“There are red lines,” Jourova added, tagging Musk’s personal Twitter account. “And sanctions, soon.”

Musk’s reputation has polarized of late, in part due to his opposition to Twitter’s decision to ban former President Donald Trump from the platform after the Capitol riot. Many U.S. conservatives regard him as a free speech gadfly, while liberals regard him as a patron of anti-democratic social forces.

“I get feeling unsafe, but descending into abuse of power + erratically banning journalists only increases the intensity around you,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) tweeted Friday. “Take a beat and lay off the proto-fascism. Maybe try putting down your phone.”

Nevertheless, even some congressional Democrats have rejected calls to intervene with government power.

“The animating, substantive principle of the First Amendment is to prevent the government in power from regulating the speech of people it doesn’t like,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) tweeted. “Also, private sector businesses can do basically whatever they want when it comes to speech.”

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Blinken’s team tried to thread the needle between disagreeing with Musk and deferring to the principle that Lieu articulated.

“First, social media companies make their own independent decisions about content moderation, and I’m not going to comment on their specific private actions,” said Patel, the deputy spokesman. “But what I will say is that this department’s support for free speech and freedom of the press is well documented.”

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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