Last Wednesday morning (November 14), a popular Twitter account @elonjet that was dedicated to tracking the movements of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s private jet was suspended. The account, which had a large following, was powered by a flight-tracking API and owned by Jack Sweeney, a college student in Florida. It provided updates on where Musk’s jet was located and where it was headed and was followed by aviation enthusiasts and Musk fans alike. Musk stated on November 7, 2022, that he was such a staunch supporter of free speech that he would not prohibit the plane tracking account, which he described as a “direct personal safety risk.”
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Twitter’s loophole for shutting down automated accounts that track people
However, since Musk took over Twitter, he found a loophole. After the suspension of @elonjet, Musk stated that “real-time posting of another person’s location” is against Twitter’s doxxing policy, but “delayed posting of locations is fine.” He made this statement in a tweet that was sent out on Wednesday evening. He then stated that the company’s doxxing policy would be updated to reflect the change.
Musk has it in for Sweeney’s API-powered bot accounts
Not only did Musk suspend Sweeney’s @elonjet account, Sweeney also stated in a tweet he sent out last Wednesday afternoon that his other account, which was dedicated to tracking employee jets at Musk’s company SpaceX was suspended as well.
Sweeney’s other accounts monitor the private flights of other public figures, such as former President Donald Trump, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta. These three accounts have all been locked for further investigation. Sweeney told CNBC that these accounts were terminated because they violated Twitter’s rules against “platform manipulation and spam.”
Before Musk banned Sweeney’s accounts, there were indications of a conspiracy within Twitter to limit the audience reach of Sweeney’s accounts.
Sweeney claimed that an employee forwarded him a screenshot of the company’s vice president of Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council requesting that @ElonJet be subjected to heavy visibility filtering. The Trust and Safety Council has subsequently been dissolved. According to some sources, Twitter employees might have been given instructions to shadow-ban Sweeney’s account.
Are all API-powered Twitter bot accounts at risk?
Does Musk’s banning of a bot account on Twitter that tracked his plane using a flight API necessarily imply the closure of a large number of other bot accounts that rely on APIs? If millions of social media accounts are automated with the help of services like Hootsuite and Buffer, are those accounts also at risk of being banned?
It is not uncommon for social media platforms, such as Twitter, to take action against accounts that are found to violate their terms of service or community guidelines. In this case, the bot account in question was using a flight tracking API in a way that was not permitted by the terms of service or was otherwise deemed inappropriate by Twitter. It is not necessarily the case that other bot accounts that use APIs will be shut down as a result of this action. It will depend on the specific actions and behaviours of those accounts and whether they comply with the terms of service and community guidelines of the platform.
Twitter’s War on Bots: A Look at Recent Actions Against Automated Accounts
Twitter has banned bot accounts for a variety of reasons, including spamming, spreading misinformation, and manipulating conversations. Twitter has also taken action against bots that are used to artificially inflate follower counts or to automate interactions with other users. In some cases, Twitter has even suspended accounts that are suspected of being associated with foreign governments or political campaigns. In conclusion, while it is possible that other API-powered Twitter bot accounts may be at risk, this will depend on the specific actions and behaviours of those accounts and their compliance with the platform’s terms of service and community guidelines.