Twitter has suspended the account “@ElonJet,” which tracked and tweeted the movements of Elon Jet’s private jet. According to Jack Sweeney, a college student who runs various sites that track private jets using publicly available information, the account has been permanently suspended.
After Elon Musk took over Twitter this year, he pledged to defend the principles of free speech on the site—specifically, he said, by not banning the @ElonJet account.
“My commitment to free speech extends even to not banning the account following my plane, even though that is a direct personal safety risk,” Musk said on Twitter on November 6, 2022.
Sweeney has been using sites such as ADS-B Exchange to track the movements of private jets blogging to celebrities, tech billionaires, and Russian oligarchs for years now. By law, the movement of these plans is publicly available information. “This account has every right to post jet whereabouts, ADS-B data is public, every aircraft in the world is required to have a transponder, Even AF1 (@AirForceTrack) Twitter policy states data found on other sites is allowed to be shared here as well,” the account’s pinned tweet read before it was banned.
The @ElonJet account scraped data about the movements of Elon’s jet and tweeted every time it moved. Just before the ban, according to the most recent scrape of the account on the Wayback Machine, the account had tracked Musk taking a 48-minute flight from Oakland to Los Angeles.
The ban is sure to bring more scrutiny to Musk’s claims of defending free speech on Twitter, rather than running it as a personal fiefdom that chiefly benefits the richest man in the world. Notably, the Musk tracker is the only Sweeney-affiliated plane tracker to be banned. The Mark Zuckerberg tracker is still up, the account tracking celebrity jets is still up, an account tracking the jet of sports teams is still up, another tracking the movement of corporate jets is still up, and one that tracks the jets of Russian oligarchs is still up.
Update 12/14/22, 3:11 PM: After the publication of this article, Twitter suspended all of the above mentioned account and Sweeney’s personal account. He told The New York Times he that his accounts were suspended for violating rules against account manipulation and spam.
Musk has also apparently requested, via the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), that his plane not be tracked on third-party sites like FlightAware, according to a notice on its website. The FAA allows aircraft operators to request that their tracking data not be made publicly available.
“This aircraft is on the the FAA blocklist meaning it is not allowed to be displayed to the general public,” a FlightAware spokesperson said in an email to Motherboard. “This is something that all 3rd party trackers do usually follow as a list is sent out every month."
The suspension comes days after Sweeney had been publicly tweeting about what he called the “shadow banning” of the @ElonJet account. According to Sweeney, Twitter employees told him that the @ElonJet account had been flagged to have restricted visibility in public feeds. He shared a screenshot purportedly showing Ella Irwin, Twitter’s new VP of Trust and Safety, telling employees to apply a “heavy [visibility filter]” to the Elon Jet account. Neither Sweeney nor Irwin immediately responded to Motherboard’s request for comment.
Irwin did not respond to a request for comment sent in a tweet.
Sweeney runs several accounts that track the movements of private jets. He also runs a Discord, Facebook, Instagram, and Telegram page where he shares the information and people gather to learn about OSINT jet tracking. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Update: This article was updated to include comment from FlightAware.