Twitter brands NPR as state-controlled and replies to concerns with ‘poop’ emoji

Less than 1% of America’s National Public Radio (NPR) budget comes from the federal government. That did not stop Twitter labeling the public media outlet as “US state-affiliated media.” Elon Musk, the owner of the social media platform, supported the move.

Twitter’s own guidelines define state-affiliated accounts 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.”

Other news media accounts with the label include RT of Russia and Xinhua of China. The United Kingdom’s public broadcaster BBC and NPR were exempt from the policy because they enjoy editorial independence.

But this week, Twitter suddenly decided NPR really was a state-affiliated media organization and added a label saying that to its account on the network. The reference to NPR has also been deleted from Twitter’s guidelines.

Twitter suddenly decided NPR really was a state-affiliated media organization. Image by Cybernews.

Naturally, NPR is not happy and, in an explanatory piece on its website, said it operated independently of the US government – NPR gets less than 1% of its annual budget, on average, from federal sources, mostly in the form of grants from the government-funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

NPR had not been notified that the label would be added to its account, and only learned of the change when it was enacted on Twitter.

“NPR stands for freedom of speech and holding the powerful accountable. It is unacceptable for Twitter to label us this way. A vigorous, vibrant free press is essential to the health of our democracy," John Lansing, NPR CEO, said.

The media organization tried to clarify details of the decision but Twitter’s press account auto-replied with a poop emoji. This seems to be standard practice at the company as journalists have been receiving such a reply for weeks now.

Musk, however, signaled support for the new designation of NPR. Responding to a tweet about the shift, he posted an image of a screenshot showing Twitter’s policy defining state-affiliated media, with a short message: “Seems accurate."

It seems Musk doesn’t see – or pretends he doesn’t see – the difference between public broadcasters, partly or wholly funded by the government but maintaining editorial independence, and state media organizations in countries like Russia, China, or North Korea, where they are turned into tools of vast propaganda machines.

It’s unclear yet how the new label will affect NPR’s presence on Twitter, but it might reduce its visibility. Twitter’s policy states: "In the case of state-affiliated media entities, Twitter will not recommend or amplify accounts or their Tweets with these labels to people."

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