Elon Musk’s battle with a college student who tracks his private jet zig-zagged like an out-of-control plane on Wednesday—with the billionaire suspending, reinstating, and then rebanning the 20-year-old’s Twitter account and then threatening legal action against him.
At one point, Musk claimed that a “crazy stalker” climbed onto the hood of a vehicle carrying his son, X Æ A-12, in Los Angeles “thinking it was me”—then said he had sicced his lawyers on those “who supported harm to my family.”
Even for those closely following Musk’s turbulent stewardship of Twitter, the episode was an exercise in whiplash—and Jack Sweeney, the student who runs @elonjet, was not an exception.
“I gotta be careful. I mean, I don’t know what’s going on,” Sweeney told The Daily Beast in an evening interview as the daylong drama appeared to reach its denouement.
Sweeney was baffled by the suggestion that his account revealing flight data was a threat to Musk’s family.
“I never meant for any intent of like, any harm or anything,” Sweeney said, adding that his account uses publicly available information. “And I don’t think there’s that much of a risk of posting data that’s already there.”
Sweeney woke up on Wednesday to a notice that his bot account had been permanently suspended for breaking Twitter’s rules—even though just last month Musk had applauded himself for allowing @elonjet to remain active in honor of the platform’s purported free-speech ethos.
“It’s pretty crazy, because he literally put out the whole tweet saying that he wouldn’t [ban the profile],” Sweeney told The Daily Beast soon after that initial suspension. “So this morning, I am pretty surprised.”
Later on Wednesday, Twitter also suspended Sweeney’s personal account. But then, without explanation, @elonjet reappeared on its 526,000 followers’ feeds at 6:14 p.m.
That prompted Sweeney to fire off a couple of tweets from the account, writing, “Wait Hello? How long does delay mean @elonmusk”— an apparent reference to a brand new Twitter Safety policy change regarding the sharing of people’s location.
Musk himself explained the new policy in tweets: “Any account doxxing real-time location info of anyone will be suspended, as it is a physical safety violation. This includes posting links to sites with real-time location info.”
He added: “Posting locations someone traveled to on a slightly delayed basis isn’t a safety problem, so is ok.”
Twitter’s “Private information and media policy” page was abruptly changed on Wednesday and reflected a strangely specific caveat—stating that the company prohibits “live location information, including information shared on Twitter directly or links to 3rd-party URL(s) of travel routes... regardless if this information is publicly available.”
(An archival snapshot of page taken by The Intercept showed that this clause was not present on Tuesday.)
During its brief resuscitation, the @elonjet account managed to put out a handful of other tweets, including one asking for the reinstatement of Sweeney’s personal account, @JxckSweeney.
At 6:46 p.m., it tweeted, “Yes I am back! But just In case make sure to follow my other accounts,” and went silent. Its page later reflected a suspended account.
Sweeney told The Daily Beast that he was “kind of suspicious” of Musk’s claims about why he took action.
“I think if something really happened, wouldn’t you have put it all out at once?” he asked. “Why wait until there’s hundreds of stories about me getting banned—and my account getting banned—to say that there was an issue last night.”
The college sophomore confirmed that he hadn’t yet received any legal notice from Musk or his representatives. “We’ll see if he’s actually doing anything,” Sweeney said.
In fact, Sweeney claimed he hasn’t heard directly from the “Chief Twit” since he offered Sweeney $5,000 to shutter @elonjet. At the time, Sweeney countered with a request for $50,000, which Musk rejected. In a Wednesday interview with Anderson Cooper, filmed before the events of the evening, Sweeney said he’d “for sure” take a job at Tesla or Twitter if Musk extended the offer.
A Twitter spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday; its communications team was dissolved several weeks ago.