The free-speech wing of the internet cheered when billionaire Elon Musk, a vocal critic of social media censorship, said he would purchase Twitter for $44 billion.
But by backing out of the deal earlier this month over Twitter's alleged undercounting of spam accounts, the Tesla CEO may have emboldened the social media platform to resume or expand its aggressive moderation of tweets that offend elite opinion.
Since the Musk deal fell through, Twitter has imposed a raft of suspensions and lockouts against medical experts and critics of gender ideology, including one it recently reinstated.
While it has publicly demanded Musk complete the deal, Twitter could also try to compel him to pay the $1 billion back-out penalty if it wanted to preserve its flexibility to crack down on purported COVID-19 misinformation, abusive behavior and "hateful conduct."
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, suspended for several months for calling hydroxychloroquine a "safe drug," said he noticed a "remarkable uptick in followers" to his account after Musk announced his intended purchase.
"I think Twitter is nervous" following its legal settlement with newly reinstated former New York Times journalist Alex Berenson, who showed "Twitter wasn't even following its own rules," Fitton told Just the News.
The number of spam accounts is "just a subset" of potential fraud, as evidenced by Twitter's alleged refusal to disclose information about its suspension processes during Musk's due diligence, according to Fitton.
"They're lying to Congress," shareholders, regulators and users, he alleged.
Ivy League epidemiologist Andrew Bostom woke up Wednesday to learn his account had been suspended for the second time in a month for purported COVID misinformation.
Twitter had reinstated Bostom hours after receiving a July 14 legal warning letter from former Trump administration lawyer James Lawrence, who also represented Berenson and recently added deplatformed user Daniel Kotzin as a client.
"I am not sure why Twitter has suddenly become so aggressive against accounts like Dr. Bostom's ... its actions make no sense to me either legally or commercially," Berenson told Just the News Wednesday when asked what role Musk's withdrawal may have played.
Bans by California-based Twitter "may violate California law and the California Constitution — which protects some speech on private property" — but they also fly in the face of its lucrative commitment to serving as "a public square committed to free speech," Berenson said.
Bostom tweeted that the "only" randomized controlled trial data from children "reveals ZERO hospitalizations prevented by vacci[n]ation vs. placebo. The RCT data from adults shows more [severe adverse events] caused by vax than C19 hosp[italization]s prevented."
A longtime member of the Brown University medical faculty until last year, Bostom showed Just the News FDA advisory committee briefing documents on Pfizer's emergency use authorization applications to back his claims, which he included in his appeal.
The June 15 document for children under 5 showed the sole hospitalization in the trial was in the vaccinated group, and the Oct. 26 document for 5-11 year-olds showed no severe COVID cases in either vaccinated or placebo groups, even though children with comorbidities "made up approximately 20% of the evaluable efficacy population."
For his adult claims, Bostom pointed to a June preprint study, not yet peer-reviewed, led by the editor of the British Medical Journal. It found mRNA vaccines associated with an "absolute risk increase of serious adverse events of special interest of 12.5 per 10,000," far higher than the hospitalization reduction of 2.3 and 6.4 per 10,000 from Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Twitter slapped genomics researcher Kevin McKernan with a weeklong lockout shortly after Just the News reported on his preemptive threat to sue the company for baseless "strikes" against his account.
The triggering tweet challenged another user for claiming COVID vaccines reduce "serious illness and death," which McKernan said was "not a clinical endpoint of any vaccine trial." Twitter called his response "misleading" and blocked interaction with the tweet.
In response to McKernan's appeal, which mentioned his newly hired lawyer, Twitter surreptitiously changed the grounds for sanction. The July 21 response says his "account features will remain limited" for violating "our rules against abusive behavior."
McKernan told Just the News Wednesday he has received no word from "the Ministry of Truth" since the appeal was rejected, though he was surprised how quickly Twitter responded. "Usually these appeals go nowhere for months," he said, adding that the term "abusive" is so vague "one can drive a truck through [it] in the land of snowflakes."
Twitter recently started sanctioning accounts that use the term "groomers" to refer to people who oppose Florida's law banning discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in public K-3 classrooms, characterizing it as an inherent slur "in context of discussion of gender identity."
Podcaster and former Vice journalist Tim Pool was among the targets, though he deleted the offending tweet to restore his account and has since replaced "groomers" with "pedophiles."
But the social media platform is going even further to squelch criticism of proposals opposite to Florida's.
Twitter imposed a lockout Monday against the activist group Moms for Liberty, which recently expanded its focus to crime, for criticizing California legislation that would make it a sanctuary state for adults who bring out-of-state children there for so-called gender-affirming medical procedures.
Moms for Liberty called gender dysphoria "a mental health disorder that is being normalized by predators across the USA," asking why California "want[s] to 'liberate' children all over the country. Does a double mastectomy on a preteen sound like progress?"
Twitter notified the group the tweet amounted to "hateful conduct" and unilaterally removed it from public view. Moms for Liberty appealed the sanction, asking Twitter to specify what was hateful, according to screenshots shared with Just by News by cofounder Tiffany Justice.
This was the group's first run-in with Twitter since it got "dinged" more than a year ago for tagging a curriculum maker, and it had no other notifications of violations, she wrote in a direct message.
"I have no doubt this has come to the attention of the people at Twitter who can actually make decisions," she said, given how widely the sanction has been reported. Asked about potential litigation, Justice said: "If they continue to ignore our requests to be reinstated, our executive board and advisory team will meet to discuss the best way to move forward."
Twitter didn't respond to requests to explain its behavior since Musk withdrew from the deal, including sanctions against Bostom, McKernan and Moms for Liberty, and how its approach to content moderation may have changed.