X has banned the account of a prominent critic after he published data that he claims exposed the site’s embrace of the far-right after Elon Musk’s takeover last year.
Travis Brown, a software developer based in Berlin, alleges his account was first suspended on July 1 this year, several months after his data formed the basis of New York Times and CNN reports claiming that far-right influencers featured prominently among Twitter Blue subscribers, and how thousands of previously banned X accounts, including members of the far-right, were being reinstated on the site.
On Tuesday, Brown announced his decision to challenge his account’s suspension in court in Berlin. “This is a matter of principle,” he says. “I think it is important that platforms like Twitter are not allowed to shut down criticism arbitrarily.” X did not reply to repeated requests for comment.
X has been accused of attempting to silence its critics several times since Elon Musk acquired the platform in October 2022. In July, X sued the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) after the nonprofit published research suggesting that problematic content on the platform, such as hate and disinformation, was becoming more widespread. In December 2022, X suspended the account ElonJet, which tracked the movement of Musk’s private jet.
“Elon Musk likes to pretend he cares about free speech, but this case exposes that commitment as little more than window dressing,” claims Tiemo Wölken, a German politician who represents the Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament. “Someone who silences critics and researchers by kicking them off their platform isn’t a free speech advocate.”
Brown says he worked for X for one year, leaving in 2015 when his team was shut down. In 2022, he received a grant from the Open Knowledge Foundation, a nonprofit, to build software that would enable him to trace the history of accounts engaging in disinformation and hate speech. That tool, which focused on the company then known as Twitter, enabled him to identify which social media accounts posting about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had a history of posting spam. But it also meant he could identify, almost in real time, which previously banned accounts were being reinstated on X, he says.