Twitter’s feud with publicly-funded media doesn’t seem to be cooling down any time soon. This past weekend, the social media giant—which recently came under fire for labeling NPR “state-affiliated media”—replaced the the outlet’s “state-affiliated media” label with “government funded.” (The designation, while technically true, is a vast overstatement of NPR’s relationship to the government.) The social media giant also deemed the BBC government-funded, which the UK national broadcaster objected to. “We are speaking to Twitter to resolve this issue as soon as possible. The BBC is, and always has been, independent. We are funded by the British public through the licence fee,” a spokesperson said in a statement to Vanity Fair, referring to the national TV tax that primarily funds the BBC.
In an email exchange, Musk told reportedly told the BBC that his site is “aiming for maximum transparency and accuracy. Linking to ownership and source of funds probably makes sense. I do think media organizations should be self-aware and not falsely claim the complete absence of bias.” The CEO reportedly added: “All organizations have bias, some obviously much more than others. I should note that I follow BBC News on Twitter, because I think it is among the least biased.” (Twitter declined a request for comment with a poop emoji, the automated response to all press inquiries instituted under Musk.)
Last week, Twitter’s initial decision to label NPR “state-affiliated media” triggered a wave of backlash, largely because the designation has been used to identify foreign media outlets that are both funded by and ideologically aligned with their governments. The move also went against the site’s own definition of state-affiliated media, which states that the label is only applied to “outlets where the state exercises control over editorial content” via political and financial pressure. (NPR—which has maintained editorial independence since its founding—receives only about 1% of its annual revenue from the federal government.) NPR president and CEO John Lansing has called the label “unacceptable” and said the organization was “disturbed.” And last Wednesday, a day after Twitter labeled NPR “state-affiliated media,” Twitter chief Elon Musk backtracked in an email exchange with NPR reporter Bobby Allyn, admitting that the label “might not be accurate.”
Meanwhile, NPR has not tweeted from its main account since April 4, the day it received the initial “state-affiliated media” label. An NPR spokesperson told the Daily Beast in a statement last week that they would not be tweeting from the account until the issue was resolved, while clarifying that their posture was not a “boycott.” NPR did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what it plans to do in light of its new label. The BBC, on the other hand, continues to tweet from its account while it works to resolve the situation with Twitter. Asked by Vanity Fair about its decision to continue using the account in the meantime, a BBC spokesperson declined to comment.
NPR and the BBC aren’t the only news outlets that have been targeted. PBS—which receives about 15% of its revenue from federal funding—also received a “government funded” label, as did Voice of America, an outlet that is actually funded by the US government. Musk told NPR’s Allyn that Twitter is applying the designation “to a larger number of institutions”—but the application thus far has been uneven.
Twitter’s news-designation drama comes amid growing concerns about Twitter’s value as a marketing platform, as my colleague, Caleb Ecarma, wrote last week. CNN reported in February that over half of Twitter’s top 1,000 advertisers have halted spending on the site. Still, as Axios’ Sara Fischer noted, several mainstream publications—including some that have been targeted by Musk, who either removed their verification checks or suspended individual reporters’ accounts—have continued to run ads on Twitter. And, as of January, dozens of others were set to execute content deals with the platform.