Twitter singles NPR out with misleading state-backed media label

After taking over last year, Twitter’s new owner has invented policies on the fly, pushed questionable design changes and generally bent the platform to suit his whims.

In the latest installment of Elon Musk’s mercurial leadership saga, Twitter now classifies American news nonprofit NPR the same way that it handles RT, the infamous Russian state-backed mouthpiece that pushes the Kremlin’s talking points to the broader world.

Screenshot of NPR's Twitter account with state media label

Image Credits: NPR

NPR’s Twitter account on the once-essential breaking news platform now comes with a tag denoting it as “US state-affiliated media.” But NPR doesn’t meet Twitter’s own definition for a state-affiliated account:

State-affiliated media is defined 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…

State-financed media organizations with editorial independence, like the BBC in the UK for example, are not defined as state-affiliated media for the purposes of this policy.

NPR, which operates with editorial independence, isn’t controlled by the U.S. government. And the news organization only received about 1% of its budget from federal funding in 2020.

The decision, which appears to have come out of the blue, may have as much to do with Elon Musk’s failure to understand the media as it does his tendency to settle scores by changing Twitter’s rules and functions.

Based on Musk’s prior attacks on the press, it’s possible that NPR has some unflattering investigative coverage of the tech mogul lined up. But it’s just as likely that Musk is just flexing his influence to appease his fans and the upstart right-wing media outlets that he has repeatedly aligned himself with.

Just prior to waging war with NPR, Musk took aim at The New York Times. Twitter’s users waited with bated breath over the weekend in anticipation, waiting for the directive that all “legacy” check marks be stripped from previously verified accounts to come to pass. But legacy blue checks survived the weekend with one notable exception: The New York Times. Musk apparently revoked the NYT’s blue check himself after learning that the paper didn’t have plans to pay for his ill-conceived new pay-for-play verification service.

Musk’s disdain for traditional news media was a major animating factor in his decision to buy Twitter to begin with. And as Twitter decays into an unpleasant slurry of stale jokes, amplified hate and paid prominence, Musk will likely continue to manipulate the social network to his own ends, right up until the wheels fall off or we all stop paying attention.