A Twitter account tracking Elon Musk’s private jet across the world suddenly flew under the radar earlier this month, with users finding they could no longer search for the automated account, or tag it in tweets through suggested usernames.
The reason for the heavy restriction on its accessibility, according to the bot’s creator, Jack Sweeney, was that Twitter staffers had dampened the account in a targeted effort—and he had the receipts to prove it.
“Thanks whistleblowers,” he tweeted on Saturday before posting a thread he called “My Twitter Files.”
Internal company messages shared with Sweeney by an “anonymous Twitter employee” reflected that the @elonjet account had been “visibility limited/restricted to a severe degree” beginning Dec. 2. A screenshot of what he claimed was an internal Slack channel showed Ella Irwin, the person appointed to replace Yoel Roth as Twitter’s new head of trust and safety, asking a “Team” to “please apply heavy VF to @elonjet immediately.”
“VF” stands for “visibility filtering,” a means of blacklisting or shadow-banning certain accounts and shielding their content from other users. That the term is used by Twitter employees internally was first reported by former New York Times columnist Bari Weiss on Thursday.
In a thread on the subject, Weiss said a “senior Twitter employee” had told her, “‘Think about visibility filtering as being a way for us to suppress what people see to different levels. It’s a very powerful tool.’”
The alleged move to restrict @elonjet’s visibility comes just one month after Musk publicly announced his commitment to free speech on the platform.
“My commitment to free speech extends even to not banning the account following my plane, even though that is a direct personal safety risk,” the billionaire tweeted at the time. Flight records are considered public information, as taxpayers pay for runways, towers, and air traffic controllers.
Sweeney told The Washington Post last month that Musk’s takeover had “definitely brought more interest to my account,” which he created in June 2020. In January, it was reported that Musk had offered the then-19-year-old $5,000 to delete the account, fearing its existence would lead to him getting tracked and followed by “crazy people.”
Sweeney refused the offer, saying the amount was paltry considering the level of effort he put into building the bot.