APRIL 12, 2023
National Public Radio is quitting Twitter after the social media platform owned by Elon Musk stamped NPR’s account with labels the news organization says undermine its credibility.
Twitter labeled NPR’s main account last week as “state-affiliated media, ” a term also used to identify media outlets controlled or heavily influenced by authoritarian governments, such as Russia and China. Twitter later changed the label to “government-funded media” and gave it to a few other organizations, such as the Public Broadcasting Service in the U.S. and the British Broadcasting Corporation in the U.K.
NPR said in a statement on Wednesday that it “will no longer be active on Twitter because the platform is taking actions that undermine our credibility by falsely implying that we are not editorially independent.”
PBS said Wednesday it has also stopped tweeting from its main account because of its new label and has no plans to resume.
Media analysts say growing friction between Twitter and news organizations since Musk bought the platform is bad for Twitter, and bad for the public.
“It’s a shame to have proceeded in a direction where, intentionally or otherwise, Twitter is categorizing Russian propaganda outlets in a similar way to very legitimate news sources that get a very modest amount of funding from the U.S. government,” said Paul Barrett, deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.
This is just the latest example of Musk tangling with mainstream news organizations. He abruptly suspended the accounts of individual journalists who wrote about Twitter late last year, claiming some were trying to reveal his location.
Twitter earlier in April removed the verification check mark on the main account of The New York Times, singling out the newspaper and disparaging its reporting after it said it would not pay Twitter for verification of its institutional accounts.
Twitter used to tag journalists and other high-profile accounts with blue check marks to verify their identity and distinguish them from imposters, but Musk has derided the marks as an underserved status symbol and plans to take them away from anyone not buying a premium subscription.
Barrett said Musk appears to be intent on “insulting and antagonizing individuals and organizations that he considers to be too liberal for his taste.” But by driving away legitimate news outlets, Twitter is only harming itself, he said.
“The drift is in an unfortunate direction,” Barrett said. “You want to encourage sources of reliable, well-reported news to be present and prolific on your platform.”
NPR’s main account had not tweeted since April 4. On Wednesday, it sent a series of tweets listing other places to find its journalism.
NPR spokesperson Isabel Lara said its journalists, employees and member stations can decide on their own if they want to keep using the platform. NPR journalists have not been given the “government-funded” label, at least not yet.
NPR does receive U.S. government funding through grants from federal agencies and departments, along with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The company has said it accounts for less than 1% of NPR’s annual operating budget.
Twitter’s new labels have often appeared arbitrarily assigned. It tagged NPR with the “state-affiliated” label after Musk participated in a public conversation about NPR on Twitter. It then deleted mention of NPR, but temporarily left up BBC, on a web page where it described how news organizations “with editorial independence” should not get that label.
Twitter hasn’t added the “government-funded” label for many other public broadcasting organizations, such as those in Canada and Australia. It has also changed some labels without explanation, such as when it removed a “United Arab Emirates state-affiliated media” tag from the profile of Abu Dhabi’s The National newspaper earlier this year.
In an interview Tuesday with a BBC technology reporter at Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters, Musk acknowledged that the British organization “is not thrilled” about the label it received and asked the reporter for feedback.
“Our goal was simply to be as truthful and accurate as possible,” Musk said. “So I think we’re adjusting the label to be ‘publicly funded,’ which I think is perhaps not too objectionable. We’re trying to be accurate.”
The BBC said Wednesday it would welcome a move to change the label to “publicly funded” instead of government-funded.