Twitter has removed labels describing prominent news organizations in the United States as "government funded" or "state affiliated" after NPR, public broadcasters and other media outlets in various countries called the labels misleading and suspended their Twitter accounts.
Twitter's owner Elon Musk has been a leader in making abrupt and unannounced changes to its platform. The labels were removed without explanation.
Twitter changed its policy one day after removing the checkmark icons from the profile of thousands of celebrities and politicians whose identities were verified by the company before Musk purchased it for $44 billion last October. Twitter, which responds automatically to press inquiries by email with a poop-emoji did not comment immediately on Friday.
NPR reported Mr. Musk stated in an email, that Twitter has dropped all media labels. "This was Walter Isaacson’s suggestion," referring to Walter Isaacson who is a former media executive and author working on a biography about Mr. Musk. Mr. Isaacson didn't immediately respond to an inquiry for comment.
NPR announced last week it would stop using Twitter after Twitter branded the broadcaster as "U.S. state-affiliated media."
Twitter changed the NPR Twitter account's label to "Government Funded Media" and gave the same designation PBS. PBS also announced that it would cease tweeting.
NPR reported last week that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a government-funded organization, and other federal departments and agencies provided less than 1% of its operating budget. It stated that its two biggest sources of income are corporate sponsorships, and fees paid by members stations. These stations rely heavily upon donations from their listeners.
PBS claims on its website, that because the broadcaster is free of commercials, many people believe mistakenly that the government provides most of its funding. The broadcaster stated that federal funding only accounts for about 15% of their revenue.
Twitter applied the label "Government-Funded Media" to the BBC account, Britain's national broadcaster, until it changed it to "publicly-funded media". The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, however, objected to Musk's decision and suspended the use of their Twitter account.
In a Thursday statement, the Global Task Force (a group representing the public broadcasters in eight countries including Canada, Britain, and France) objected to Twitter labeling four of its members "Government-funded media."
The group claimed that the "misleading" label was applied "without consultation or warning" to the Twitter pages of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), CBC/Radio-Canada (CBC), the Korean Broadcasting System, and Radio New Zealand. The statement stated that the editorial independence of each broadcaster is protected by law, and their editorial policies are a part of this protection.
The group claimed that labeling them this way would mislead the public about their editorial and operational independence from the government.
This argument is similar to that of Isabel Lara, NPR’s chief communications officer. She said that last week, "NPR’s organization accounts will no longer active on Twitter, because the platform takes actions that undermine our trust by falsely suggesting that we aren't editorially independent."
Twitter removed the "government funded" label from NPR, BBC, PBS and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation by Friday.
Twitter has also removed the "state-affiliated" label from accounts for the Chinese state news agency Xinhua, and the Russian state media outlet RT. Twitter has removed the page that explained its policy regarding media labels.
NPR didn't immediately respond to Friday's request for comment, but John Lansing NPR chief executive said the broadcaster wouldn’t immediately return to Twitter even if it removed the label "Government-funded media".
In an interview with NPR, he stated that he would need time to determine whether Twitter could be trusted once again.
PBS declined comment on Friday. In an email sent to the CBC, it said: "We will review this latest development before we take any further steps.