“To have this happening to American journalists in the United States by an American with an American social media platform…has been raising eyebrows around the world,” said Steve Herman, Chief National Correspondent for Voice of America (VOA) and JURIST’s 2022-2023 Journalist in Residence, in an interview with JURIST Friday about his sudden ban from Twitter on Thursday. Herman’s Twitter account was suspended along with those of several other prominent journalists following “doxxing” accusations from new Twitter chief executive Elon Musk.
In imposing the bans Musk seemed to imply that journalists who reported on the suspended @ElonJet account, which automatically tracked the flights and geo-location data of Musk’s private jet, had conducted exposed or shared personal data in violation of Twitter’s new user policies. Herman called Musk’s accusations of doxxing “utterly ridiculous.” He said that none of the now-suspended journalists shared any information about where Musk or his jet were in real time. Rather, Herman said he attempted to share links to @ElonJet’s Mastodon and Facebook accounts. When Herman tried to do so, however, he was met with a pop-up that said the links were dangerous and could not be shared to Twitter. Shortly after, Herman’s Twitter account was suspended.
Herman said that the journalists who have had their accounts suspended have no other recourse other than the court of public opinion. To Herman, Twitter is the world’s wire service. Journalists like him use Twitter to gather news, disseminate news, reach out to sources and gather audience feedback. Herman said, “It has been an incredible resource to me in the field in many different countries for many years. There is nothing like it.”
Under the ban Herman has abruptly lost his 112,000-strong Twitter following and has had to turn to Mastodon, a small but growing rival social media network, where he has only 24,000. Other suspended journalists have made similar moves. Earlier Thursday Herman told VOA the situation was a “growing free press story.” When asked to elaborate, Herman said, “If you begin to arbitrarily throttle mainstream and other journalists, it’s a restriction of free press – plain and simple.”
Herman told JURIST he was not surprised that Twitter suspended his account. After Herman saw Twitter suspend other journalists’ accounts on Thursday, he said, “I knew this was going to be a big snowball rolling down a hill and that it might roll over me as well. I didn’t know how big, how fast, or how wide the snowball was going to get, though.”
Though Twitter was created in the US and is run by Musk from the US, Herman says it is not viewed as a purely American product. He said, “Twitter is seen as something international and universal,” and suspensions have sparked alarm internationally. The Association for International Broadcasting (AIB) released a statement Friday calling for the immediate reinstatement of the journalists’ accounts. AIB said it is “appalled that Twitter is suspending the accounts of respected and highly experienced journalists.” The American Foreign Services Association also expressed their support for Herman Friday and urged Twitter to reinstate his account, stating in part, “Twitter can and must do better.”
JURIST Friday stood in solidarity with Herman and others fighting to defend freedom of the press. In a statement responding to his suspension, JURIST urged Twitter to reinstate Herman’s account, saying that “By banning Herman and other professional reporters, Twitter is arbitrarily blocking the free flow of accurate information on a wide range of issues to the public’s detriment without adequate explanation or process.” As a result of the suspensions, JURIST said it is pausing all Twitter operations from midnight Friday ET pending a review of its Twitter policy and the “satisfactory resolution of this matter”.