US radio station NPR has suspended its Twitter account after the social media platform labelled the broadcaster as “state-affiliated media”. Twitter’s policy of de-amplifying tweets from state-owned media outlets, such as those from China and Russia, has led to NPR being classified in the same way as these organisations. While NPR’s music and politics handles remain active, the main account with over 8.8 million followers has remained silent since Friday. Twitter’s actions have been met with criticism, with NPR’s CEO John Lansing describing them as “unacceptable”. Musk’s involvement in the issue has also raised eyebrows, as he previously expressed a dislike for the news media and even installed an automatic response of a poop emoji for emails sent to the site’s main press address.
According to NPR’s website, less than 1% of its operational budget comes from federal sources. Instead, the bulk of its revenue comes from fees paid by member stations across the US, supported by individual donors and government funds. The designation of NPR as state-affiliated media by Twitter is therefore being questioned by Elon Musk. He suggested in an email to NPR that the relabeling might not be “accurate”, and that Twitter would investigate further.
The media landscape is facing increasing scrutiny as governments and social media companies alike attempt to grapple with issues such as misinformation, propaganda and foreign interference. Twitter’s policy on state-affiliated media is designed to prevent these organisations from being able to spread their messages widely, while giving users more information about the sources of their news. However, NPR’s case raises questions about whether this policy is appropriate for organisations that receive minimal funding from the government.
As social media companies continue to develop and refine their policies towards media outlets, it is likely that there will be further debate about what constitutes “state-affiliated media”. The issue is a complex one, as different countries have different levels of government involvement in their media industries. For NPR, the designation by Twitter has raised concerns about the broadcaster’s independence and neutrality. However, the fact that the main account has been suspended suggests that NPR is taking the issue seriously and is willing to stand up for its principles.