NPR quits Twitter over ‘government-funded’ label

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National Public Radio (NPR) has announced that it will stop using Twitter in a row over how its account is described.

The US not-for-profit news organisation clashed with the social media platform over its decision to describe the outlet as “government-funded media”.

NPR says it undermines its credibility, as US government funding accounts for less than 1% of its budget.

Twitter owner Elon Musk agreed to change the label on the BBC’s account.

In an interview with BBC News on Tuesday evening, Mr Musk said he wanted labels to be truthful and accurate, but did not refer to NPR.

NPR said in a statement on Wednesday that Twitter was “taking actions that undermine our credibility by falsely implying that we are not editorially independent”.

“We are not putting our journalism on platforms that have demonstrated an interest in undermining our credibility and the public’s understanding of our editorial independence,” the statement said.

The decision makes NPR the first major US news outlet to suspend its use of Twitter, despite the organisation having 8.8m followers on the platform.

The outlet encouraged people to instead subscribe to its newsletters and follow NPR on other social media.

Mr Musk later reacted to the decision in a series of tweets criticising NPR and accusing the outlet of inconsistency in how it had previously described its funding model.

On its website, NPR defines itself as “an independent, non-profit media organisation”.

It operates on a mixed-funding model that it says mostly includes corporate sponsorships, fees paid by NPR member organisations and donations.

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Its decision to quit Twitter comes after the BBC disputed the same “government-funded media” label added to its @BBC account, which has now been removed.

The BBC operates through a Royal Charter agreed with the UK government, which states the corporation “must be independent”.

Its public-service output is funded by UK households via a TV licence fee, as well as income from commercial operations.

On Wednesday, the tag on the BBC’s account had been changed to “publicly-funded media”.

Twitter has defined government-funded media as “outlets where the government provides some or all of the outlet’s funding and may have varying degrees of government involvement over editorial content”.

It added that it may use “external sources” like Wikipedia to determine which outlets fall under the label.

‘Bold move’

Stephanie Edgerly, a journalism professor and researcher on audience insight at Northwestern University, said NPR’s decision to quit Twitter was a “bold move”.

Twitter has a younger user base that is educated and interested in paying for news, Prof Edgerly said, or in other words, “an audience that news organisations want to engage with”.

On the flip side, she said that Twitter accounts for only a small percentage of where Americans get their news.

A 2021 study by Pew Research Center suggested about 23% of Americans use Twitter, with seven-in-10 of those users regularly consuming news on the platform. That is smaller than the percentage of those who use and get their news from Facebook, Prof Edgerly noted.

The academic added that news outlets have grappled for some time with how to use social media, especially when news articles can appear side-by-side with misinformation and unmoderated content.

Working with social media platforms collaboratively over the years has been beneficial, but Prof Edgerly said these partnerships at Twitter “have been crumbling” over the last few months.

As for whether other news organisations may follow NPR in pausing their activity on Twitter, Prof Edgerly believes NPR’s not-for-profit status may have made it easier for it to quit the platform.

“It’ll be interesting to see if anyone follows,” Prof Edgerly said. “It is a different calculus for other organisations.”

In a staff meeting on Wednesday morning, NPR’s CEO John Lansing said the company was looking to “de-emphasise Twitter,” according to a tweet by NPR reporter Steve Inskeep.

“NPR says Twitter isn’t used by most Americans; drives little traffic to NPR; and ‘no longer has the public service relevance that it once had,'” Mr Inskeep tweeted, citing the CEO’s comments.


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