Under new owner Elon Musk, Twitter has banned the Twitter accounts of one Florida college student, including one account that was using publicly accessible information to track Musk’s private jet flights in real time.
Late Wednesday, Musk threatened legal action against Jack Sweeney – a student at the University of Central Florida – and “organizations who supported harm to my family.” Musk said a stalker followed and blocked a car carrying his two-year-old son, “Lil X,” in Los Angeles, thinking the occupant was him. The assailant climbed onto the hood, Musk tweeted.
Once offered $5,000 by Musk to take down his account, Sweeney may find himself opposite the billionaire in court. By Thursday morning, there were no federal civil lawsuits that had been filed against Sweeney anywhere in the United States.
The automated flight tracker account @ElonJet flip-flopped on Wednesday. Twitter suspended the account, reinstated it, then permanently suspended it.
Hours after Twitter shut it down, the flight-tracker was temporarily back online but was no longer tracking Musk’s jet minute-by-minute. That appeared to be a concession to new Twitter rules against sharing “live location information.” It wasn’t immediately clear how long a delay was acceptable under the new rules. Then Twitter shut it down again.
“When someone shares an individual’s live location on Twitter, there is an increased risk of physical harm,” the new rules said.
It wasn’t clear how Twitter would enforce its new rules for tweets about contemporaneous reporting of public figures at live events, such as political speeches, public meetings, concerts or other such events.
In November, Musk, a self-described “free speech absolutist,” tweeted he would not suspend the @ElonJet account, even though he said it was a direct personal safety risk.
Sweeney, 20, an information technology sophomore, created the flight tracker while he was in high school.
“I never expected the first thing that I would do to blow up,” Sweeney said last month in an interview with Fresh Take Florida, a news service operated by the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. “I was a fan of (Musk), and I wanted to know what he was doing.”
Sweeney’s Twitter accounts used publicly available flight data to track planes of high-profile owners, generating a map and tweeting coordinates of landing locations. His @ElonJet account had more than a half million followers. Musk flew at least once a week, sometimes with several trips in a day.
“There’s a lot more dangerous places like when they’re in the streets of L.A. going to a restaurant or in New York and there’s paparazzi versus on a private jet,” Sweeney said. “You’re in a secure airport. Most of the time you’re in the air, no one’s gonna shoot you down.”
At the time, Sweeney believed his account was safe even after Musk purchased the social media platform. He was wrong.
“He’d have to be not very smart to take it down because then the news would be all over it,” Sweeney said in November.
Musk reversed his promise, and the account was suspended on Wednesday.
“Well it appears @ElonJet is suspended,” Sweeney tweeted early Wednesday. He encouraged users to follow his other platforms, tracking the jets of Jeff Bezos, Taylor Swift, Donald Trump and Elon Musk’s brother, Kimbal Musk. Sweeney also maintains accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, Discord and TruthSocial.
Sweeney asked for his $8 back in another tweet, money he used for a verified account on the platform.
Twitter banned all of Sweeney’s automated flight trackers Wednesday as well as his personal account.
Musk has eyed @ElonJet for over a year and offered Sweeney $5,000 to take it down in November 2021. Sweeney declined the offer, saying it would take at least $50,000 or a Tesla, his dream car, to persuade him.
When Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion in October, he unblocked the @ElonJet account. But for months Sweeney said Twitter search banned it, preventing people from finding it easily. Earlier this week, Sweeney tweeted that Twitter “shadow banned” the account, limiting its reach. He tweeted a screenshot of the company’s vice president of Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council asking to place heavy visibility filtering on @ElonJet. The Trust and Safety Council was disbanded Monday. Two days later, Sweeney tweeted that the @ElonJet account was no longer hidden or banned.
“It’s not a good look for Elon if he bans accounts he doesn’t like or creates new rules in order to do that,” Chase said in a message Wednesday afternoon.
While Chase’s tracker remains online, all previous tweets have been deleted and Twitter’s Terms of Service is now pinned to the top of his profile, with a message promising to abide by a 24-hour delay
Twitter said Wednesday it had changed its policy on open source flight-tracking, requiring permission to share “travel routes, actual physical location or other identifying information that would reveal a person’s location, regardless if this information is publicly available.”“Real-time posting of someone else’s location violates doxxing policy, but delayed posting of locations are OK,” Musk tweeted.
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can donate to support our students here.