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Amid backlash, Twitter changes NPR’s account to ‘government funded media’

Twitter and its billionaire owner, Elon Musk, have backed off a controversial description of NPR as “state-affiliated media,” relabeling the news organization’s social media account as “government funded.”

The change, quietly made by the San Francisco-based company late Saturday, follows complaints from NPR and others that Twitter’s designation of NPR’s account as “state-affiliated” last week was an effort by Musk to disparage the Washington-based news organization. The state-affiliated label has traditionally been used by Twitter to describe government-run propaganda outlets, such as Russia’s Sputnik and RT and the Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily.

In addition to its unsavory connotation, the label appears to have been inconsistently applied. Several news organizations that receive government funding, as NPR does, have not been so labeled by Twitter.

NPR chief executive John Lansing formally protested the designation, saying NPR’s news operations are overseen by independent journalists and not by government officials. In response to Twitter’s unilateral decision to add the description, NPR declined to tweet and changed its Twitter bio to say that it was an “independent” news organization.

NPR didn’t respond to a request for comment Sunday. Twitter responded to an email seeking comment with a poop emoji, its automated response to all press inquiries.

The “government funded” label appears to be a new one for Twitter, representing a kind of compromise from Twitter’s previous labeling. On Saturday, it began placing the “government funded” brand on other news outlets that receive some state support, including PBS, BBC and Voice of America. But the designation doesn’t appear on Twitter accounts run by other such organizations, such as Canada’s CBC News.

The change in designation for NPR follows Musk’s admission that he actually didn’t understand the news organization’s relationship to the government when he ordered NPR to be designated as state-affiliated.

In an email exchange with an NPR reporter on Thursday, Musk acknowledged that he was unclear about NPR’s relationship with the government when the platform affixed the state-affiliated label. Told by the reporter that NPR receives only about 1 percent of its annual revenue from the federal government, Musk replied: “Well, then we should fix” the designation.

He asked, “What’s the breakdown of NPR annual funding?”

NPR then provided Musk with details of its finances, which show that about 40 percent of its revenue comes from sponsorships and about 30 percent from programming fees paid by local public radio stations. (These stations, in turn, typically receive state and federal funds and use them to finance their operations, as well as pay for NPR-produced programs.)

Musk also referred to state-controlled broadcasters and said “it sounds like” NPR fell into a different category.

“The operating principle at new Twitter is simply fair and equal treatment, so if we label non-US accounts as govt, then we should do the same for US, but it sounds like that might not be accurate here,” he wrote.

That comment appears to mark a shift from Musk’s position on Wednesday, when he tweeted that the description “seems accurate” after Twitter designated NPR as state-affiliated.

Under Twitter’s own rules — which previously had explicitly exempted NPR from the state-affiliated tag — the label is applied when the state “exercises control” over the organization’s editorial operations.

Since Musk assumed control of Twitter in a $44 billion deal, he has taken a confrontational stance with journalists. In December, he banned about a dozen of them, including reporters from The Washington Post and the New York Times, for tweeting about a controversy involving a Twitter account that had tracked his private jet travel.

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