Elon Musk said he suspended rapper Ye’s account after he shared an image of a swastika combined with the Star of David, the latest in a series of decisions by Twitter’s new owner that are shifting the way the social media site treats rule-breaking users.
“I tried my best. Despite that, he again violated our rule against incitement to violence. Account will be suspended,” Musk wrote overnight to a Twitter user telling him to “fix Kanye.”
Ye’s Twitter account appeared with a message saying “Account suspended” on Friday. It was unclear how long the suspension would last.
But Ye’s swastika tweet would have violated Twitter’s rules on hateful content, not incitement to violence, according to two former employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss company policies. Ye would have previously been banned from the site for violating the hateful conduct policy because his account already had multiple strikes, one of the employees said.
Twitter and Musk did not respond to requests for comment. Attempts to reach Ye failed.
Musk took to Twitter Friday to defend his decision on Ye’s suspension, tweeting, “You know Twitter is being fair when extremists on far right and far left are simultaneously upset!”
The Twitter suspension is part of the continued fallout for Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, after he began making frequent antisemitic comments online and in interviews, which also caused him to lose several lucrative business deals.
It was not immediately clear how long Ye would be unable to tweet to his more than 31 million followers. A verified account under Ye’s name posted a screenshot on Truth Social saying that he had been suspended from Twitter for 12 hours. But his Twitter account was still suspended Friday afternoon outside that time period.
Musk purchased the site for $44 billion in late October, and has moved rapidly to shift the company in the direction of his free speech ideals, creating upheaval inside the company along the way. He’s also trimmed more than half the company’s 7,500 member staff and winnowed out workers who aren’t “hardcore.”
He’s taken many content moderation decisions on the site into his own hands. Last week he said he would reinstate banned accounts after separately reinstating Trump. He also launched, then delayed, a new Twitter paid verification check mark after a flood of fake accounts.
On Monday, he publicly accused Apple of threatening to remove Twitter from the App Store. But just days later, he tweeted that he met with CEO Tim Cook and said Cook did not intend to remove the app.
“Tim was clear that Apple never considered doing so,” he wrote.
When he was in the lengthy process of buying Twitter, Musk said he would follow laws as a guide for what is allowed on the site. His stated approach was cheered by some conservative pundits and politicians who have accused tech companies, often without evidence, of “censoring” conservatives. But many civil rights groups have expressed alarm that Musk could roll back safeguards at Twitter designed to remove hate speech and content that encourages violence.
Social media experts have long warned that Musk would find content moderation more nuanced and difficult than his “free speech” approach seemed to suggest. Companies, including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, have struggled to strike a balance between allowing free expression and keeping offensive content off their sites.
“There’s no question that he’s discovering that owning a social media platform is not the same as building a product,” said Darren Linvill, social media researcher and professor at Clemson University.
Musk is likely dealing with tension between advertisers who don’t want their ads to appear next to offensive content, and his pledges to let people say what they want, said Eric Goldman, a professor and co-director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University School of Law.
“Is he going to break Twitter? Or find a magic solution that has escaped other social media sites?” he asked. “Or is Twitter going to break Musk?”
Twitter insiders say layoffs have decimated the company’s trust and safety team, and in recent weeks, Musk reinstated Trump, the Babylon Bee and other controversial accounts. The billionaire has also moved rapidly to undermine a content moderation system meant to define dangerous language and protect vulnerable communities online, while layoffs left one of the world’s most influential social media sites with a skeleton staff, The Washington Post reported.
Musk at first pledged to create a diverse council to help shape content moderation, then backed off that commitment. Advertisers have been fleeing from Twitter since he took over, putting Twitter’s main source of revenue at risk.
Musk has spoken out against permanent bans at Twitter, including Trump’s, which he reversed last month. The billionaire entrepreneur, who also runs Tesla and SpaceX, indicated last month that he would reinstate nearly all banned Twitter accounts after conducting an informal poll that asked followers whether the company should offer general amnesty, “provided that they have not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam.”
Ye’s suspension illustrates that Musk plans to follow some guidelines for what’s allowed on the site — though it’s unclear which guidelines he is using.
In conversations with Twitter employees and his allies, Musk has suggested that violent threats, which he called “sticks and stones,” should be the new standard for platform suspensions, The Post has reported.
However, Musk has made contradictory decisions. He reinstated Trump, who was suspended “due to the risk of further incitement of violence” in the wake of the Jan. 6 attacks. Trump has not tweeted since Musk reinstated his account last month.
Some experts speculated that Musk needed to suspend Ye after recent tweets and cited the incitement of violence rule as a more palatable option for followers who cheered his free speech stance.
“He has to say it’s ‘incitement to violence’ if he’s going to try to adhere to the narrative that he’s only cracking down on illegal speech,” Goldman said.
Ye’s account has previously been restricted. Earlier this fall when the musician tweeted he would go “death con 3” on “JEWISH PEOPLE,” Musk tweeted that he had talked to Ye.
Musk said Oct. 10 that he “expressed my concerns about his recent tweet, which I think he took to heart.”
Ye’s most recent incendiary tweet followed a string of antisemitic comments by the rapper that have upended his business deals. An interview with far-right Infowars founder Alex Jones sparked uproar Thursday after Ye said, “I like Hitler.”
In a retweet of a clip from the interview, before Musk announced his suspension, Ye promoted his appearance, where he also said, “I love Jewish people, but I also love Nazis.” He sent the swastika image in a separate tweet.
During the talk with Jones, alongside white nationalist Nick Fuentes, Ye also said, “I see good things about Hitler,” and denied that Adolf Hitler, as leader of the Nazi party, oversaw the murder of 6 million Jews.
Twitter reinstated Ye’s account just before Musk’s takeover. Musk greeted him upon his return to the platform in October, saying, “Welcome back to Twitter, my friend!”
Ye, a music producer and business mogul, has lost several lucrative deals in recent months over his comments, including partnerships with Gap and Adidas. The right-leaning social app Parler said Thursday that Ye will no longer buy the company.
Drew Harwell contributed to this report.