NPR reported that Twitter CEO Elon Musk said the platform’s recent labeling of NPR as “state-affiliated media” might not have been accurate during a series of email exchanges that provided a glimpse into the billionaire’s thought process on decisions that reverberate far beyond the social network.
Regardless, as of late Tuesday, the designation remained.
According to NPR, on Wednesday, press freedom advocates and the network itself were taken aback to see that Twitter had placed NPR in the same category as government-aligned propaganda outlets in China and Russia – despite the network’s federal support, in the form of competitive grants, accounting for about 1% of its annual operating budget.
In one email exchange, Musk appeared to be unclear about the difference between public media and state-controlled media when he decided to affix a state-affiliated media label on NPR’s account.
NPR provided Musk publicly available documentation of the network’s finances showing that nearly 40% of its funding comes from corporate sponsorships and 31% comes from fees for programming paid by local public radio stations. NPR also covers the news free of any government influence – something that should mean it does not receive state-affiliated labeling, according to Twitter’s own rules.
NPR also reported that since Musk took over the platform in October, Twitter has at times taken a hostile stance toward the national press. Musk’s row with NPR is just the latest instance of the Twitter CEO’s increasingly confrontational stance toward the mainstream media, which often covers Musk and his companies critically.
The Guardian also reported that Twitter on Tuesday evening labeled the account of National Public Radio (NPR) as US state-affiliated media, drawing fierce criticism from the news organization’s leadership.
Other publications with the label include Russian propaganda network RT and China’s Xinhua News Agency, The Guardian reported.
According to The Guardian, the change to NPR’s designation appears to be in violation of Twitter’s own original policy on how the social media platform determines which companies receive this label. “State-affiliated media is defined as outlets where the state exercises control over editorial content through financial resources, direct or indirect political pressures, and/or control over production and distribution,” the policy reads.
The Guardian noted that Twitter explicitly listed NPR along with the BBC as exceptions to this categorization. The policy noted that while both organizations receive state financing,NPR derives less than 1% from its annual operating budget from government programs – they have editorial independence, according to screenshots posted by NPR reporter David Gura.
By Wednesday morning, however, the policy had been changed to remove the mention of NPR. The designation of the BBC’s Twitter account remained unchanged, and the organization was still included as an exception in the policy.
The Guardian also reported that the Twitter accounts of other publications that recieve various degrees of state-funding, such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the FlemishVRT NWS, have also been left untouched.
To me, it sounds like one of two things have happened. Elon Musk doesn’t understand the definition of “state-affiliated media” – but allowed it to be added to NPR despite his misunderstanding. Or, it is possible that Elon Musk has decided to discriminate against news organizations that he doesn’t like. These kinds of snap decisions are not good for Twitter, and certainly aren’t good for Twitter’s users.