Once again, Twitter’s in media and tech news this week, for all the wrong reasons. This time, Elon Musk’s social network asks the question: “Is National Public Radio (NPR) US state-affiliated media?” The answer, of course, is “no.” The longer answer (to justify this post) is “no, and here’s why.” This week, Twitter (read: Musk) decided NPR is such, and opted to stick Twitter’s “state-affiliated media” label onto NPR’s account, as seen in this screenshot:
Twitter’s reasons for the label
According to Twitter’s own rules defining state-affiliated media:
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. Accounts belonging to state-affiliated media entities, their editors-in-chief, and/or their prominent staff may be labeled.
State-financed media organizations with editorial independence, like the BBC in the UK for example, are not defined as state-affiliated media for the purposes of this policy.
As others noted, the page was edited not long after the NPR label was issued. The page originally listed both NPR and the BBC as examples of what isn’t state media. The idea that NPR is on par with Russia and China’s state-owned media outlets (whose Twitter profiles carry the state-affiliated media label) is ridiculous, of course.
Twitter’s actions have multiple problems. For starters, adding the label undermines any reason for journalists and media outlets to trust Twitter. Elon Musk, of course, has a strong dislike of most journalists; he dismantled Twitter’s public relations department after taking over. Sending an email to Twitter’s press account auto-generates a poop emoji response. (How classy.) NPR has also been in conservatives’ cross-hairs for years as a supposed liberal haven.
Carrying said label also reduces NPR’s tweets’ visibility. The irony is that NPR is paying Twitter money for that gold check mark you see in the screenshot, which means it’s a “Verified Organization.” So Musk is OK with taking NPR’s money, while engaging in childish retaliation?
My guess the reason for the label: Musk (and/or his supporters) got mad after NPR tweeted early on Tuesday it wouldn’t carry Trump’s post-indictment speech live. Thus, Musk retaliated by ordering the label added, as well as the above rules changed.
(If wondering about why a picture of a dog is replacing the usual Twitter bird logo, it’s some meme related to “dogecoin”/cryptocurrency, an interest of Musk’s… and something he’s being sued over.)
NPR vs. other public broadcasters
Note only NPR’s main Twitter account carries the state-affiliated media label, and not its secondary Twitter accounts; NPR’s reporters’ accounts also don’t carry the label. Similarly, PBS, the United States’ noncommercial public TV broadcaster, doesn’t carry the label, despite also being a target of conservatives.
Checking non-American public broadcasters, I see the UK’s BBC, Canada’s CBC, and Australia’s ABC also don’t carry the “state-affiliated media” label, despite receiving much heavier government funding than NPR does. (BBC and CBC are also paying for a gold check mark.) To wit:
- CBC: About 66% of its funding comes from the Canadian government (as of 2021-2022).
- BBC: About 75% of its funding comes from a government-required license fee British citizens pay each year for owning a TV.
NPR stated, in an article on its site addressing all of this, that less than 1% of its funding comes from federal sources. Which tracks with what I wrote about its funding a few years ago.
I note NPR does currently have some financial problems; it just announced it’s cutting several podcasts, plus 10% of its staff.
Along with all the other changes Twitter’s been through, this just adds one more reason journalists and news organizations should consider avoiding or reducing usage of Twitter. Media outlets should consider using other platforms instead: blogs, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, federated social networks like Mastodon, etc.
While other social media platforms have flaws, Twitter’s current flaws feel unique: a series of chaotic, unpredictable, and blatantly biased changes at the whim of a thin-skinned, trolling billionaire owner. Again, I don’t plan on regularly using Twitter again anytime in the foreseeable future; I’m fine with using alternative social networks and my blog instead. While I’m just a solo blogger, it’d be nice to see NPR (and other media outlets) do the same. For now, NPR says it’s stopped posting to its Twitter account, and won’t tweet again until the label’s removed; its last tweet (as of this writing) was on Tuesday, April 4.
Update: On April 8, Twitter removed the label from NPR’s account, replacing it with a “government-funded” label. However, I feel my points above all still stand.
Update #2: On April 12, NPR announced that it’s no longer using Twitter, citing all of the above, plus Musk’s unpredictable behavior undermining its trust in the platform. As such, NPR’s removed links to Twitter from its site’s footer and share buttons. From the article, NPR apparently plans instead to rely more on its Facebook account (sorry, Mastodon fans).
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay