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Elon Musk Is Really Not Helping His Cause of Bringing Advertisers Back to Twitter

Twitter chief executive Elon Musk appears to have admitted that putting a “state-affiliated media” disclaimer on NPR’s account this week might have been a mistake, but the social media company did not immediately act to remove the tag. 

NPR business reporter Bobby Allyn alerted Musk to the issue. Twitter itself defines state-affiliated media as “outlets where the state exercises control over editorial content” via political and financial pressure, whereas NPR has maintained editorial independence since its founding (only about 1% of its yearly operating budget is covered by federal funds). Twitter’s published guidelines had previously cited NPR and the BBC as examples of news outlets that were not considered state-affiliated media, but those references have since been removed.  

Musk, who initially said the “state-affiliated” tag seemed “accurate” for NPR, backtracked in his response to Allyn this week: “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.”
As of Friday afternoon, however, NPR’s account was still wearing the tag. Oddly enough, Twitter has not deemed many of the US government’s official media arms “state-affiliated media,” including Voice of America, Alhurra, and Radio Free Asia, all of which are funded entirely by Congress and considered extensions of US diplomacy. 

The designation has typically been applied to outlets funded by US adversaries, including RT, a Russian state-run network, and the People’s Daily, a paper controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. NPR has not posted on its company account since April 4, the day its chief executive, John Lansing, called Twitter’s designation an “unacceptable” development.

Musk, meanwhile, is contending with a heap of other controversies related to Twitter, including a brewing war with Substack, backlash to new monetization policies, and a struggle to win back corporate advertisers that fled after Musk’s takeover at the end of October. His poor standing with some industry leaders appears unchanged; his scheduled attendance at an upcoming major marketing conference—where Musk is expected to pitch businesses on bringing their advertising dollars back to Twitter—has reportedly spooked executives at major companies, according to Semafor’s Max Tani. “His willingness to leverage success and personal financial resources to further an agenda under the guise of freedom of speech is perpetuating racism,” wrote McDonald’s marketing chief Tariq Hassan, who described Musk’s tenure at Twitter as “ranging from chaos to moments of irresponsibility.” 

The recent backlash around NPR’s misidentification likely isn’t helping assuage businesses’ concerns about Twitter as a marketing platform.