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NPR suspends Twitter usage over ‘state-affiliated media’ label

Apr 12, 2023

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NPR announced Wednesday, April 12, it will be suspending its use of Twitter after disagreements over a new “state-affiliated media” label that was applied to its accounts on the platform. The news organization said it will stop posting new content on its 52 official Twitter feeds, including its main account which boasts nearly nine million followers.

“It would be a disservice to the serious work you all do here to continue to share it on a platform that is associating the federal charter for public media with an abandoning of editorial independence or standards,” NPR CEO John Lansing wrote in an email sent to the company’s staff.

This marks the first major U.S. news organization to leave Twitter since new owner Elon Musk took over. In a statement, NPR accused Twitter of “taking actions that undermine our credibility by falsely implying that we are not editorially independent.” The state-affiliated media label was first applied to NPR during the week of April 2, while Twitter also placed it on the BBC’s account, as well as foreign propaganda outlets such as Russia’s Sputnik and China’s CGTN.

“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,” Paul Barrett, deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, said.

During an interview with the BBC this week, Musk acknowledged the pushback this account labeling by Twitter has generated, stating he was aware media organizations were not “thrilled” about the practice. Musk said the goal was to “be as truthful and accurate as possible,” adding that he planned to update the BBC’s label to publicly funded. The Twitter owner also conceded through an email exchange with an NPR reporter that the state affiliated media label might not have been accurate for their news organization either.

“The operating principle at Twitter is simply fair and equal treatment, so if we label non-U.S. accounts as government, then we should do the same for the U.S., but it sounds like that might not be accurate here,” Musk wrote to NPR.

Twitter then changed the account label to “government-funded media,” but NPR responded by saying that even this new label is still “inaccurate and misleading.” The outlet explained this is because they are a nonprofit which “receives less than 1 percent of its $300 million annual budget from the federally funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting.”

However, NPR does receive more government money than that figure would suggest. The news organization obtains much of its funding through fees and dues paid by its member stations, most of which are owned by nonprofit organizations, including public school districts and universities that are publicly-funded and use that money to pay NPR.

Meanwhile, Lansing told his employees NPR that the company “will not immediately return to the platform” even if Twitter drops the designation, saying he has lost faith in the social media company’s decision-making.

“At this point I have lost my faith in the decision-making at Twitter,” Lansing said. “I would need some time to understand whether Twitter can be trusted again.”

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