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Twitter temporarily bans account for D.C.-area bus system without explanation

The social media app suspended the @metrobusinfo account on Tuesday for about six hours and gave Metro transit officials no explanation

A Metrobus travels through Washington. (Eric Lee for The Washington Post)

Twitter suspended the account of the D.C. area’s largest bus transit system on Tuesday for unknown reasons but restored it over six hours later.

Metro officials said they weren’t told why the social media company suspended the account. Before the suspension, Metro officials said, the account had not posted anything other than standard content, which includes delay and detour updates, customer-service-related tips, and replies to customer complaints or concerns.

The sudden ban of the account Metro uses to inform bus riders of delays, scheduling changes and other information launched the public transit agency into a debate over censorship, casting the nation’s third-largest transit system as a victim of billionaire tech mogul and Twitter chief executive Elon Musk’s controversial recent suspensions of journalists and alleged rulebreakers. But unlike in some other cases, no apparent cause was given for the ban of the @metrobusinfo account.

The account reappeared Tuesday evening without followers, which is typical for handles that have been banned as account data slowly repopulates following restoration.

The suspension mirrored some of the irregularities and policy inconsistencies that have arisen since the social media company was taken over in October by Musk. In a few months, Musk — the Tesla and SpaceX CEO who has long been critical of Twitter policies limiting what the social media app has allowed or restricted — has cut more than half of Twitter’s employees, suspended journalists who covered a ban on an account tracking his private jet and launched features such as a verification check mark for anyone willing to pay $8.

There was no indication that other transit or governmental agencies were similarly affected Tuesday. Some largely automated accounts or those repeatedly posting links, even those not engaged in spam or harassment, appear previously to have been caught up in sweeps of bots on the site. Musk, whose replies are often littered with cryptocurrency scams, said cleaning up spam has been a key priority for him as the owner.

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Asked why Metro thought its account had been suspended, spokesman Ian Jannetta said the transit agency had no answers.

“All great questions,” Jannetta said in a text message. “Let us know if Twitter answers them for you [because] we are asking the same ones.”

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.

The transit agency announced that the account — one of three primary accounts the transit agency uses — had been suspended on its main @wmata account just after noon.

“We’re working to get this restored for our bus customers,” Metro said on Twitter. “Sorry for the inconvenience.”

Since Musk took over, Twitter has been beset with inconsistent applications of its policies and sudden bans on longtime accounts, with few avenues to appeal or obtain a reversal. Last month, Twitter banned an account tracking the live location of Musk’s private jet, citing a new policy prohibiting the sharing of live-location data that could reveal a person’s whereabouts.

The company followed that ban with a rash of suspensions against other accounts run by the owner of @elonjet, college sophomore Jack Sweeney, including his personal account. Then, Twitter suspended more than a half-dozen journalists, including Washington Post reporter Drew Harwell, as Musk baselessly alleged that the journalists — some of whom had been reporting on the jet account — posted “basically assassination coordinates” for him.

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Musk said the journalists were free to rejoin, but they quickly learned they could only do so if they deleted the tweets, resulting in a stalemate because the journalists maintained they had done nothing wrong.

Officially, Twitter’s policy prohibits sharing of “live location information, including information shared on Twitter directly or links to 3rd-party URL(s) of travel routes, actual physical location, or other identifying information that would reveal a person’s location, regardless if this information is publicly available.”

It wasn’t known whether that policy resulted in the bus account’s suspension, or whether the suspension was conducted through automated means.