Over a series of email exchanges that provided an insight into the billionaire’s thought process on decisions that resonate well beyond the social network, Twitter CEO Elon Musk acknowledged the platform’s recent categorization of NPR as “state-affiliated media” might not have been correct. Nonetheless, that label persisted as of Thursday night.
Twitter’s classification of NPR as “state-aligned propaganda” on Wednesday shocked press freedom campaigners and the network itself, given that the federal government provides roughly 1% of NPR’s yearly operational budget in the form of competitive grants.
When Musk labeled NPR’s account as “state-affiliated media” in an email discussion, he seemed confused about the distinction between public media and state-controlled media. If government funding only accounts for one percent of NPR’s budget, as Musk was informed on Wednesday, “OK, then we should repair it,” he wrote in an email to this writer.
Following this, Musk asked, “What is the breakdown of NPR’s annual funding?” As a response, NPR gave Musk access to publicly available paperwork on the network’s finances, which showed that roughly 40% of the network’s income originates from business sponsorships and 31% from fees for programming paid by local public radio stations.
As NPR reports the news independently of the government, it should not be labeled as “state-affiliated” on Twitter. While admitting that “it sounds like” this may not be the case, Musk compared NPR in another email to media outlets controlled by foreign governments.
It sounds like that might not be correct, but he wrote that “the operating concept at new Twitter is simply fair and equal treatment,” which means that if we name non-US accounts as government, then we should do the same for the US.
A few hours earlier, he tweeted that NPR’s affiliation with a state “looks true.” Despite the contradictory statements, Musk clarified the designation for NPR’s account is still being considered in an email sent out on Thursday.
The position, already murky, was further complicated by Musk’s interviews with NPR during the past two days. But, this isn’t the first time the social networking platform has seen widespread disorder.
Twitter’s attitude toward the national press has been antagonistic at times since Musk acquired control of the network in October. The dispute with NPR is only the latest example of Musk’s increasingly combative attitude toward the mainstream media, which frequently presents negative coverage of Musk and his firms.
The New York Times no longer has the blue verification check from Twitter. In addition, in December, Musk terminated the accounts of numerous prominent journalists who had reported on or shared tweets from an account that monitored Musk’s private jet’s movements.
Twitter’s PR team uses the poop emoji as their standard response to requests for comment from the media. The literary organization PEN America issued a statement condemning the labeling of NPR, saying it was “a hazardous action that could further damage public confidence in reliable news sources.”
The CEO and President of NPR, John Lansing, issued a statement expressing his “disturbing” at the fact that Twitter has identified NPR as a state-affiliated news institution. Lansing issued a statement saying, “It is inappropriate for Twitter to designate us as such.”
Labels help users understand what they’re seeing
Musk, who claims to care about impartiality, appears to have violated Twitter’s rules by labeling NPR in a way that can damage the organization’s reputation.
According to the rules, “state-affiliated media” are those where the state exerts direct or indirect control over editorial content through funding or political pressure.
According to a former Twitter official who was involved in the creation of the platform’s state-affiliation labels, editorial freedom has always been the deciding factor as to whether or not to provide the designation.
Some state-funded media, such as the People’s Daily in China or Sputnik and RT in Russia, have been branded, while others that maintain some editorial independence have not.
The former Twitter executive said-
“In the end, [we] felt that the fairest and balanced way to implement labels was to call out state connections that had a demonstrated track record of influencing content of news reporting.“
This meant that “even Al Jazeera didn’t qualify under our definition,” as the former staffer put it, in addition to government-funded outlets like NPR and Voice of America.
According to the former CEO, the labels’ primary purpose was to clarify the platform’s functionality. The former executive was discussing the state news agency that consistently promotes the official line of China’s President Xi Jinping and stated, “It matters a lot when you see an outlet like Xinhua, have never heard of it, and it seems like a fully respectable news source.”
The designation affects how many people see NPR’s tweets and might hurt the organization’s image. According to the former executive, Twitter “downranks” accounts that have been given the state-affiliated mark, meaning that they are no longer suggested or amplified on the platform.
According to a second former Twitter employee who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, Twitter did not recommend government-backed outlets like RT and Sputnik to users who did not already follow them. According to the worker, government-related accounts are barred from Twitter advertising. There was never an official announcement of whose accounts had been tagged.
The rules were established to prevent the platform from being used as a vehicle for government propaganda. Because Musk has taken over Twitter’s ownership, it is unclear whether the previous limits on the platform and advertising revenue for state-affiliated media still apply. Since Twitter labeled the account, NPR has not tweeted from the official account.
A spokesperson for the network, Isabel Lara, claimed that until the “false disclaimer” was removed, the network would not be tweeting.
When asked if Twitter’s refusal to remove the mark indicated that the firm stood by the decision, Musk avoided answering directly.