Held Hostage by the Barmy Bird

[NB: check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

Of all the journalists suspended by Elmo on the bird site, I was bothered most by that of Voice of America’s Steve Herman.

I mentioned before he’s a straight news kind of guy. I’d followed his account at Twitter so far back I can’t remember which of us had a Twitter account first. He was one of the few early Twitter sources I could rely on for news about earthquakes in Japan. His coverage of the Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2011 was invaluable.

But the most important factor about Herman’s suspension is that he is a U.S. government employee.

Herman works for us. He’s paid with our tax dollars.

And a single foreign-born billionaire offering weak excuses after the fact had OUR public employee suspended for doing their job.

Once again, I’ll point out that Elmo was exercising his own free speech rights by suspending journalists on the social media platform he owns.

Popehat said it better, of course:

Remember: Twitter is Elon’s company, he has the free speech and free association right to run it pretty much however he wants and to ban people for petty narcissistic reasons.

And we have the right to laugh and point at his ridiculousness and at the free-speech pretenses of his gullible fans.

But even Popehat said that on Mastodon.

Elmo may be within his rights to capriciously decide to suspend journalists, but in suspending VOA’s Herman it became crystal clear that the U.S. government should not allow its resources to be subject to the whim of a single individual when the entire country relies on those resources.

Thankfully, Herman was already on Mastodon before the suspension and has been ramping up posting on that open platform since he launched his account.

But it’s who else is NOT on Mastodon which is now a problem.

Every member of Congress who has an account on Twitter is vulnerable to suspension.

Every U.S. government department and agency still on Twitter is likewise at risk.

Let’s say Musk becomes annoyed with the Federal Aviation Administration because of its regulations on airspace and planes, commercial and private. Could he suspend the FAA’s account?

Or perhaps Musk gets his pants in a knot about National Aeronautics and Space Administration because he and NASA don’t see eye to eye about a SpaceX-related matter. Could he suspend NASA accounts (there are multiple for this agency).

One might say, “Surely Musk wouldn’t be stupid/crazed enough to do that.”

Except he’s already suspended one employee of a U.S. government agency, and holding that person’s account hostage until content is deleted from that person’s account.

Elmo might have the right to do this, but the U.S. should not be held hostage by a pasty excessively-monied git with an unmanaged ego.

Look at this situation from another angle: this is ransomware denying service to a user until a specific deliverable has been provided.

In VOA’s case, Musk by way of Twitter Safety has demanded Herman delete a tweet before service will be resumed.

How should a government agency respond to demands for ransom like this, when an open platform is ready and waiting to provide alternative service?

There’s no good reason why each department and agency is still on Twitter but not on Mastodon, nor is there any good reason why each member of Congress doesn’t have an account on Mastodon.

None of the work government departments, agencies, and employees do should be impeded by the private sector let alone by a single butt-hurt billionaire.

Contact your members of Congress and tell them this needs to be fixed going into the next session of Congress. Each of them and their caucuses need to have a non-commercialized open social media platform account.

Congressional switchboard: (202) 224-3121 or use Resist.bot (which has a Mastodon account, by the way).

36 replies
  1. Rayne says:

    One more thing I want to point out: while a U.S. government employee was suspended from Twitter, the white nationalist and neo-Nazi accounts welcome back remain unrestrained in any way.

  2. Naomi Schiff says:

    Great post. I’d been wondering about this, all the way down to our local fire department. Musk has fought with San Francisco (installing beds at Twitter HQ) and Alameda Counties (didn’t like Health Dept. Covid regs at Tesla) . . .

  3. Ed Walker says:

    Maybe each government and maybe each agency pr department should set up its own Mastodon server. That way we can easily find them, and they are able to keep track of what related agencies are doing.

    • Rayne says:

      I think each department and each independent agency should have their own instance, though there should be some standards applied from the get-go to both the instance and to accounts.

      NASA is a pretty good example considering how many different programs and projects have had their own websites and Twitter accounts — they should all roll up under NASA.social or something like that, with mission directorates and field centers each having their own accounts on that instance like https :// nasa.social / @AeronauticsResearch (the ARMD directorate) or @KennedySpaceCTR (Kennedy Space Center in FL).

      • MurphysLab says:

        The European Union has taken the approach of having a Mastodon instance as a host for various EU Institutions:


        I’d like to see more national governments create up their own posting tools, separate from Twitter or other commercial providers. It could both liberate the content from hosts whose interests are in conflict with citizens & residents, which tends to involve finding ways to monetize their private information. It also removes barriers for citizens & residents, such as the requirement to surrender various rights to a private business, via a ToS, in order to simply access essential government information.

      • Raven Eye says:

        The White House should send a tasker over to GSA pronto — ordering them to do some initial scoping and then generating some models for organizing the executive departments and independent agencies. That’s in their wheel house.

        Some RFIs should hit the street as soon as possible after that because this is a serious money thing and some in the new House would probably start whining about appropriations and authorizations. The more data on hand, the better to deal with those “questions”.

        • Rayne says:

          It’s in the executive branch’s wheelhouse, but the report is still in the House J6 committee’s hands. I hope they’ve provided some sort of preliminary suggestions to the White House.

    • Ginevra diBenci says:

      Ed, I thought the place you were going was much broader: Why doesn’t the government establish its own Twitter-esque social media operation, either by funding pre-existing entities like Mastodon or creating original one(s)?

      I can easily imagine the arguments against this (and make some myself). But now that our dependency on Twitter has been so dramatically revealed, we can seen that it involves issues of national security. Letting a spoiled brat run wild with the marketplace of ideas never works out well for public discourse, and there are established ways of doing an end-run around monopolistic corporations. These boys have been granted too much power for far too long.

  4. Peterr says:

    Look at this situation from another angle: this is ransomware denying service to a user until a specific deliverable has been provided.

    In VOA’s case, Musk by way of Twitter Safety has demanded Herman delete a tweet before service will be resumed.

    How should a government agency respond to demands for ransom like this, when an open platform is ready and waiting to provide alternative service?

    Of all the US govt agencies to suspend, Elmo certainly appears to be channeling his inner Leonid Brezhnev when he decided to go after VOA. VOA made its chops criticizing the throttling of straight reporting by various communist governments, especially the Soviet Union.

    History lesson for Elmo: even Brezhnev couldn’t stop VOA.

  5. Leoghann says:

    I heard of read yesterday that Elmo has reinstated those reporters. I haven’t gone to look, because that would involve opening the platform, which I have pledged not to do.

    I’ve been convinced since his pre-purchase days of shitposting that Elmo has decided to one-up 45. If you look, the similarities in behavior, methods, and background are striking.

  6. chum'sfriend says:

    As Musk reveals the magnitude and malignancy of both his politics and narcissism, Space X looks less and less promising as future centerpiece of our space program. But then again, maybe he still plans to go be emperor Mars himself?

  7. chum'sfriend says:

    As Musk reveals the magnitude and malignancy of both his politics and narcissism, Space X looks less and less promising as the future centerpiece of our space program. But then again, maybe he still plans to go be emperor of Mars himself?

  8. viget says:

    The US government does not negotiate with terrorists. I think it’s high time NASA and DoD reexamine SpaceX contracts as well as other agencies examine any contracts Tesla may have.

    That might change Elmo’s tune.

  9. BenF57DC says:

    Rumor has it that the previous regime suspended the account of the highest elected official in the U.S. government.

    • Rayne says:

      LOL You mean the highest elected official who’d been tweeting racist crap and misinfo about multiple topics including COVID for years, who incited the January 6 insurrection before the “previous regime” took a much overdue step in suspending Trump as POTUS on January fucking 8, 2021, two days after the attack on the Capitol.

      Oh do let’s compare that federal employee who was impeached twice to the federal employee with a career of straight news reporting.

      ADDER: Link to article about Trump’s permanent suspension from Twitter —

      US President Donald Trump’s Twitter account is “permanently suspended… due to the risk of further incitement of violence”, the company says.

      Twitter said the decision was made “after close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account”.

      Mr Trump was locked out of his account for 12 hours on Wednesday after he called the people who stormed the US Capitol “patriots”.

      Hundreds of his supporters entered the complex as the US Congress attempted to certify Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election. The ensuing violence led to the deaths of four civilians and a police officer.

      Twitter warned then that it would ban Mr Trump “permanently” if he breached the platform’s rules again.

      Trump received years of latitude on Twitter which wasn’t extended to any of the journalists suspended, and in Lorenz’s case for an alleged doxxing years ago before Musk started accumulating Twitter stock.

  10. punaise says:

    Sorry if this is a repeat:

    Elon Musk says he will step down as Twitter CEO if voted out by a poll he tweeted

    New York CNN — 

    Twitter’s mercurial new boss may be out the door after less than two months on the job, if results of a Twitter poll go against him.

    Elon Musk tweeted a poll Sunday evening asking people to vote on whether he should step down as Twitter’s CEO. Musk said he would abide by the poll’s results.

    As of Sunday evening, “Yes” was winning by a margin of 58% to 42%.

    In several follow-up tweets, Musk suggested that he was serious about leaving and made a vague threat about Twitter’s future if he is voted out.

    “As the saying goes, be careful what you wish, as you might get it,” Musk tweeted.

    • P J Evans says:

      His lenders could vote him out, I think. Certainly the Tesla BOD is making noises about it, and SpaceX should do the same.

      • Rayne says:

        His lenders could vote him out of Twitter, but this assumes their intent was to operate a profitable going-concern and not a darker effort to fragment US political factions on the left by shredding a popular social media platform.

        Tesla’s BOD probably has begun to look at booting him, but if he holds a considerable amount of Tesla stock it may be tough to get rid of him.

        SpaceX can’t do anything about Elmo because he holds nearly 80% of voting rights and nearly 50% of its stock. Fortunately/unfortunately SpaceX isn’t publicly traded so any concerns are limited to private investors.

    • Rayne says:

      The stupid part of this is that after CNN journalists were suspended for bullshit reasons, CNN reports this equally bullshit poll as if it’s legit.

      This is how crackpot malignant narcissism is normalized.

  11. Twoflower says:

    I’m afraid the reason is inertia. It is very difficult to change habits or systems, particularly for large national institutions. Even this very website still shows a list of tweets.

    All of this started just a couple of weeks ago (I mean the actual takeover). Private people have trouble letting go of the bird site, and for companies it is that much harder because more people are involved.

    • Rayne says:

      We’re showing a list of tweets because we’re a tiny organization without a coder on staff. Otherwise you’d already see a list of Mastodon posts from RSS feeds.

      As for “this started just a couple of weeks ago” — no. I opened my Mastodon account two days before Twitter and Musk agreed on terms of sale in April. Pretty sure Marcy and bmaz both opened theirs the same week. We could see trouble coming; Musk’s handling of the acquisition was sketchy the entire six months between the agreement to terms and his taking control.

      Corporations — especially those publicly held — didn’t want to give up their free advertising platform and the analytics which came with it. Until risk of brand damage was greater than the lost opportunity cost of leaving free advertising, they weren’t going to move. That’s not inertia; it’s profits über alles.

      As for “private people,” it’s as the character Kay said in the 1997 film Men in Black: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.” It took forces adequate to cause a stampede to get people to move en masse. They were just plain stupid as a group, having fallen deeply into a belief system based on a falsehood, [wealth = smart].

      • Twoflower says:

        I think we mostly agree, though you were certainly more on top of things (I rarely look at twitter). Change is difficult and/because people don’t like it. It takes time. As regards this website, I suppose you are waiting for the provider to easily allow inclusion of Mastodon posts as it now does for twitter (since you did not code that). That is another (large?) institution that is slow to move. I certainly did not mean to blame you for still showing the list of tweets, sorry if it came across like that!

  12. posaune says:

    Favorite sentence:
    “Elmo might have the right to do this, but the U.S. should not be held hostage by a pasty excessively-monied git with an unmanaged ego.”

    • Ginevra diBenci says:

      Mine too, posaune, and I only know the word “git” from listening to British rock ‘n’ roll. Rayne’s is the first American usage I can remember seeing.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Git has an unusually well-drafted first paragraph for its wiki entry. It’s mildly pejorative, usually familiar, and refers to a childish, incompetent, annoying, unpleasant, and/or silly person. Elon is all of those things, but he’s much farther out than normal on the destruction curve. More Trump than annoying neighbor or roommate.

      I especially liked the bracketing: git is more severe than twit or idiot, less severe than wanker or arsehole. That makes it a very friendly description of Elmo.


  13. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    Wonderful post Rayne.
    FWIW, I’d expected much more angst leaving the blue bird, but moving to Post has been soothing and intellectually vibrant.

    Completely agree with your National security concerns with Elmo and also the blue bird. Government needs its own system

  14. Willis Warren says:

    eh, it’s our own goddamn fault for valuing privatization over national security. Twitter should be funded as a loss leader, or CIA front or whatever the hell you want. anything but privately owned by an idiot. We really screwed this one up

Comments are closed.