Twitter CEO Elon Musk reportedly said the social media platform’s recent decision to label NPR as a “state-affiliated media” account might not have been accurate during a series of emails he exchanged with an NPR reporter earlier this week.
“Well, then we should fix it,” Musk wrote in a Wednesday email to the reporter, when he was informed that the U.S. government support represents about 1% of NPR’s finances.
Musk’s comment comes as press freedom advocates have been sounding the alarm about Twitter’s decision to categorize NPR under a label that is typically used by the platform to identify foreign media outlets that represent the official views of their government, like Russia’s RT and China’s Xinhua — which have been listed as state-affiliated media on the social media platform for years.
During the email exchanges, Musk also asked for a breakdown of NPR’s annual funding.
In response, NPR provided Musk publicly available documentation of the media organization’s finances, showing that nearly 40% of its funding comes from corporate sponsorships and 31% from fees for programming paid by local public radio stations.
In another email, Musk compared NPR to media outlets controlled by foreign governments, while also admitting “it sounds like” that might not be the case.
“The operating principle at new Twitter is simply fair and equal treatment, so if we label non-US accounts as govt, then we should do the same for US, but it sounds like that might not be accurate here,” he wrote.
But despite Musk’s remarks, as of Friday morning, the label on NPR’s accounts remained. NPR put out a statement decrying the decision and calling the label “unacceptable.” The outlet has since suspended its use of Twitter and said it will not tweet again until the “false disclaimer” is removed.
Vivian Schiller — the former president of NPR and the former head of news and journalism partnerships at Twitter — told TPM that tagging NPR as “state-affiliated media” renders the label itself “meaningless.”
“I think consistency and labeling matters. The label of state affiliated media was helpful when it comes to publishers that are quite literally state affiliated media…but by labeling NPR, as such, [Twitter] dilutes the nature of that label and renders it meaningless,” Schiller told TPM.
“Frankly, in the same way that selling blue checkmarks renders the blue checkmark, which is intended only to indicate that the person is who they say they are, meaningless,” she added. “It’s disappointing because it undermines an important data signal that was valuable to the audience.”