elonjet: why did Twitter boss Elon Musk ban private jet and plane tracker account over doxxing fears - news

Musk quickly tweaked Twitter’s policy on sharing users’ current location to explain his ban

Elon Musk has threatened legal action against a Twitter account that used publicly available flight data to track his private jet.

The @elonjet account was suspended by Twitter - now owned by Musk - on Wednesday (14 December), despite his earlier promise to keep it up out of respect for his free speech ideals.

Hours later, Musk reinstated the jet-tracking account after putting a new restriction on all Twitter users - a ban on broadcasting anyone’s current location.

Shortly afterwards, the account was once more suspended, followed by a tweet from Musk claiming that a "crazy stalker" had attacked a car transporting his young son in Los Angeles.

Here is everything you need to know about it.

What was @elonjet?

Musk has threatened legal action against Jack Sweeney, the 20-year-old programmer and college sophomore who founded the @elonjet flight-tracking account, as well as against “organisations who supported harm to my family”.

Despite his threats of litigation, it’s unclear what sort of legal action Musk could bring against Sweeney for an account that automatically posted publicly available flight information. Before Wednesday, the account had more than 526,000 followers.

(Images: Getty Images/FlightRadar)

The account, which Sweeney started when he was a teenager in 2020, automatically uploaded information on trips made by Musk’s Gulfstream jet, along with a map and an estimation of fuel consumption and carbon emissions produced.

Sweeney said he woke up to a flood of messages from people who saw that @elonjet was suspended and all its tweets had disappeared. “He said this is free speech and he’s doing the opposite,” Sweeney said in an interview with The Associated Press.

He logged into Twitter and saw a notice that the account was permanently suspended for breaking Twitter’s rules. But the note did not explain how it broke the rules. Sweeney said he immediately filed an online form to appeal the suspension. Later, his personal account was also suspended, with a message saying it violated Twitter’s rules “against platform manipulation and spam”.

Sweeney ran similar “bot” accounts tracking other celebrities’ aeroplanes, and 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. He also operates accounts tracking Musk’s jet on rival social platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.

Musk’s problems with the account go back a number of months. Last year, he reportedly sent Sweeney a private message offering 5,000 dollars (£4,036) to take the jet-tracking account down, citing security concerns.

Musk later stopped communicating to Sweeney, who never deleted the account, but after buying Twitter for 44 billion dollars in late October, he said he would let it stay. “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 6 November.

What are the new Twitter rules?

Musk and Twitter’s policy team have sought to publicly explain that Twitter now has new rules. and that “any account doxxing real-time location info of anyone will be suspended, as it is a physical safety violation.” “Doxxing” refers to disclosing someone’s identity, address, or other personal details.

“This includes posting links to sites with real-time location info,” Musk tweeted. “Posting locations someone travelled to on a slightly delayed basis isn’t a safety problem, so it is ok.”

Twitter’s note to Sweeney about the @elonjet suspension, which he shared with the Associated Press, claimed the account was used to “artificially amplify or suppress information or engage in behaviour that manipulates or disrupts people’s experience on Twitter,” a rationale different from what Musk later explained.

Musk has promised to eradicate automatically generated spam from the platform, but Twitter allows automated accounts that are labelled as such — as Sweeney’s were.