X’s fresh temporary ban of several prominent journalists raises alarm

    At least eight prominent X accounts belonging to journalists, a podcast host and leftist posters were suspended Tuesday in what platform head Elon Musk suggested was an accident.

    The accounts, which were restored within hours, all have over 75,000 followers and are known to be left-leaning. The temporary bans drove immediate claims of censorship from some X users online, who pointed to past instances in which the platform suspended similar types of users.

    In a reply post on X, Musk seemed to suggest the bans were an accidental overstep of a routine sweep for spam and scam accounts. “We do sweeps for spam/scam accounts and sometimes real accounts get caught up in them,” he wrote.

    A representative for X did not respond to a request for comment.

    Musk, who has increasingly embraced conservatives and their messaging, has routinely championed X as a platform for free speech. 

    But X has suspended and then reversed the suspensions of other prominent journalists and left-leaning accounts, including CNN reporter Donie O’Sullivan and Washington Post reporter Drew Harwell in December 2022.

    X also briefly suspended the account for Mastodon, an emerging alternative to the platform. At the time, Musk claimed that suspended accounts would regain their access after seven days (many were restored earlier) and that they had posted his real-time location (most of the accounts disputed that).

    Most of the prominent left-leaning accounts that have been suspended from X throughout Musk’s leadership have been restored. But some users — including the anarchist platform It’s Going Down and the leftist meme account “JUNlPER” — have been “permanently suspended” under the tech billionaire’s leadership of X. 

    Two of the users the platform suspended Tuesday told NBC News that they are skeptical of Musk’s explanation that their now-reversed bans were most likely accidents.

    “That strikes me as highly implausible, if not impossible,” said Steven Monacelli, a journalist and correspondent for the Texas Observer whose account was among the at least eight that were removed. “If it is possible, it is a reflection of how terrible the state of engineering has become on this platform.”

    Rob Rousseau, another of the people whose accounts were suspended and restored Tuesday, said he can only speculate about why his account was removed. He and Monacelli suggested their prominent criticism of Musk could have been a factor.

    “They might just be accounts that Elon Musk found personally annoying,” said Rousseau, who hosts a podcast and streams on Twitch. 

    The people behind the six other accounts that were suspended Tuesday had also at times been highly critical of Musk. Some were also vocal about other recent hot-button topics, like the Israel-Hamas war and billionaire Bill Ackman, who crusaded against Harvard University President Claudine Gay until she resigned in a plagiarism scandal and has since targeted Business Insider for reporting allegations that Ackman’s wife committed plagiarism. 

    One of the accounts, that of an anonymous leftist poster who goes by “zei_squirrel” and has over 200,000 followers, posted about Israel and Ackman on X immediately after having been restored. 

    “I want to thank Elon for giving me my account back. I’ll be more careful and responsible with what I say about him, the Israeli regime and its agents like Bill Ackman and Bari Weiss. I’m genuinely sorry,” the account wrote. “LOL just kidding, I’ll go 100 times as hard in exposing their propaganda now.”

    Other affected accounts included those of journalists Ken Klippenstein and Alan MacLeod, liberal Ryan Shead and the parody account “Liam Nissan,” as well as the account for the podcast “True Anon,” which discusses the Jeffrey Epstein case. 

    Several of these accounts did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

    The Texas Observer’s interim executive director, Loren Lynch, said in a statement to NBC News that the organization was “surprised to learn this morning that Steven [Monacelli] had been suspended with little to no explanation, but are pleased that he and the other journalists that experienced this have had their accounts restored.”

    Before the accounts were restored, Musk responded to a post claiming that the eight accounts were critical of Israel, writing that he would investigate why they were suspended. 

    Shead posted in response that he is not anti-Israel. 

    Monacelli said that while he has criticized the Israeli government’s actions that resulted in the deaths of many journalists and civilians, he would not describe his account as primarily anti-Israel or primarily focused on being critical of Israel. 

    “It’s all pure speculation,” Monacelli said. “If we were to speculate, I think the logic that has the least number of steps and assumptions, it would be that we posted things that were critical of Elon Musk.”