‘The Last Straw’: Twitter Users Rage Over Elon Musk’s Latest Actions

SAN FRANCISCO — High-profile Twitter users were suspended without warning or explanation, then abruptly reinstated.

A new policy to prevent users from sharing links and user names from other social platforms was rolled out, then apparently curtailed.

And Elon Musk, Twitter’s new owner, posted a flurry of messages to his 122 million followers asking them if he should step down as the head of the social media service while lamenting that no one else wanted the job.

It was another chaotic 48 hours on Twitter, which has been mired in turmoil since Mr. Musk completed a $44 billion buyout of the company in late October. His tenure has already been marked by mass layoffs, executive resignations and unpaid bills at the company. Advertisers have balked, rival services have pounced and many of Twitter’s users have feared that the service would simply cease to work.

But over the weekend, a string of actions on the platform by Mr. Musk that seemed random and capricious roiled Twitter’s users so much that outrage mounted — and then edged into disgust. The backlash became so intense that even Mr. Musk’s most strident supporters seemed to turn tail.

Among the critics were Silicon Valley technologists and entrepreneurs who previously supported Mr. Musk, such as Paul Graham, a founder of the start-up accelerator Y Combinator, and the investor Balaji Srinivasan. Mr. Musk’s latest actions with Twitter were “the last straw,” Mr. Graham tweeted on Sunday.

The outrage from even among Mr. Musk’s Silicon Valley cohort provoked what appeared to be a crisis of confidence from the 51-year-old billionaire, who was photographed earlier in the day attending the World Cup final in Qatar with Jared Kushner.

Inside Elon Musk’s Twitter

  • A Management Guru?: To many, Elon Musk’s ownership of Twitter may look like an unmitigated disaster. But his unsparing style has still made him a hero to leaders in Silicon Valley.
  • Rivals Emerge: Sensing an opportunity, new start-ups and other social platforms are racing to dethrone Twitter and capitalize on the chaos of its new ownership under Mr. Musk.
  • Account Suspensions: Twitter’s decision to suspend (and later reinstate) the accounts of several journalists set off a heated debate about free speech and online censorship.
  • An Established Pattern: Firing people. Talking about bankruptcy. Telling workers to be “hard core.” Twitter isn’t the first company that has witnessed Mr. Musk use those tactics.

“Should I step down as head of Twitter?” Mr. Musk tweeted on Sunday evening after Twitter’s users had continued questioning his actions. By early evening in San Francisco, nearly six million users had responded and the 24-hour questionnaire was tilting toward “yes.”

Mr. Musk, who often wings it in the biggest moments, said he would abide by whatever Twitter users decided. No successor has been identified, he said.

Twitter’s users had become increasingly agitated over Mr. Musk’s ownership since the middle of last week.

It began last Wednesday when Twitter banned more than 25 accounts that tracked the locations of private planes — including Mr. Musk’s — using publicly available information. While Mr. Musk had previously promised to allow the account, known as @ElonJet, to remain online, he then said he deemed the accounts, which also tracked the planes of oligarchs, government agencies and celebrities, a security risk.

Mr. Musk justified his action by introducing a new Twitter policy that banned accounts if they shared another person’s “live location.”

On Thursday, Mr. Musk used that policy to ban the Twitter account of Mastodon, the alternative social media network, after it used its account to advertise @ElonJet’s new presence on its platform. He also suspended the accounts of journalists from The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and other outlets after some shared links or screenshots of Mastodon’s tweet promoting @ElonJet. (One of the accounts suspended was for Ryan Mac, a Times journalist and an author of this article.)

The suspensions were lifted on Friday after Mr. Musk asked his followers if he should have the accounts reinstated and 59 percent of respondents said yes. But by then, the criticism had piled up.

“If Twitter owner Elon Musk truly wants to foster a platform that allows free speech for all, it makes no sense to remove journalists from the platform,” Jodie Ginsberg, president of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement at the time.

Then late on Saturday, Twitter suspended the account of The Washington Post reporter Taylor Lorenz after she posted a message asking Mr. Musk to comment for an upcoming story. Mr. Musk later said Ms. Lorenz was suspended for a “prior doxxing action,” or the online sharing of nonpublic identifying information. Ms. Lorenz did not appear to have revealed anyone’s personal information in the tweets that were visible in her timeline.

On Sunday, Twitter went a step further. The company abruptly announced a new policy saying that it would no longer allow accounts created solely for the purpose of promoting other social platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Mastodon. Mr. Musk said the change was being made to prevent “relentless advertising of competitors for free, which is absurd in the extreme.”

The move proved highly unpopular with users, who are accustomed to open social networks where messages and videos can be easily shared across platforms. The new policy also appeared antithetical to statements that Mr. Musk has made about his commitment to an open web and to giving people more transparency into the company’s decisions.

Mr. Graham, a Y Combinator founder who had supported Mr. Musk’s takeover, tweeted that the new rules banning promotion of other competing platforms led him to “give up” on Twitter and told his followers to find him on Mastodon. Twitter then suspended Mr. Graham’s account. (Mr. Musk later said Mr. Graham’s account would be restored.)

Other Silicon Valley technologists and venture capitalists said they were “done” with Twitter and began exploring alternative services. Ben McKenzie, an actor and a noted cryptocurrency skeptic, said he was taking a break from Twitter, adding, “This site is not as much fun as it used to be.” Other users accused Mr. Musk of acting like a dictator.

Mr. Musk began backtracking. He adjusted the new policy so that only accounts whose main purpose was to promote competitors would be suspended.

“Going forward, there will be a vote for major policy changes,” he tweeted. “My apologies. Won’t happen again.”

Moments later, Mr. Musk asked his followers whether he should step down from his leadership role at Twitter. Then he added, “No one wants the job who can actually keep Twitter alive. There is no successor.”

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