NPR is quitting Twitter as a result of the Elon Musk-run social media platform first labeling the company “state-affiliated media” before amending to “government-funded media,” a descriptor that the news organization maintains is “inaccurate and misleading” but that Musk steadfastly said Wednesday is on point.
The move to retire its 52 official Twitter feeds made NPR the first major news organization to leave the embattled platform since Musk’s takeover last fall. They previously addressed Twitter’s unannounced decision to tag the public radio network’s main account as “state-affiliated media” last week, decrying the label as one used “to designate official state mouthpieces and propaganda outlets in countries such as Russia and China.”
PBS made a similar move later Wednesday, stating that it has suspended posting because it was also slapped with a “government-funded” label.
Musk, who in reaction to Wednesday’s move launched several tweeted salvos at NPR — including one that called for the organization’s funding to be rescinded — amended the label to “government-funded.” But as a editorially independent, private, nonprofit company whose $300 million annual budget credits less than 1% to the federally funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting, NPR remained in a stalemate with the social media CEO.
NPR CEO John Lansing said Wednesday that the decision to leave Twitter ultimately came down to maintaining NPR’s credibility.
“The downside, whatever the downside, doesn’t change that fact,” Lansing said in an interview via NPR. “I would never have our content go anywhere that would risk our credibility.”
Lansing also clarified that if Musk were to remove the “government-funded” label altogether, he would still take pause before returning to Twitter, saying he has “lost my faith in the decision-making” at the company.
“I would need some time to understand whether Twitter can be trusted again,” he said. Individual NPR journalists and staffers, meanwhile, are permitted to continue using the site.
“It would be a disservice to the serious work you all do here to continue to share it on a platform that is associating the federal charter for public media with an abandoning of editorial independence or standards,” Lansing wrote in an email to staff Wednesday.
Later Wednesday, Musk fired back, posting a screenshot of an apparent blurb on NPR’s website he said has since been removed that said “federal funding was essential to public radio’s service to the American public” while in another tweet calling for the organization to be defunded.
After taking over Twitter in October, Musk eliminated the platform’s communications staff. Emailed requests for comment by TheWrap have been met with an auto-replied “poop” emoji, the standard reply for any press requests from the company for the past few weeks.
Twitter is in the process of changing its labeling system for verified accounts with an eye toward generating more revenue from users. The blue checkmarks formerly doled out to celebrities, journalists and businesses for free are now $7 per month, and it has added gold checks for verified organizations, including media and gray checks for government accounts.
On Wednesday, PBS made a similar decision to NPR. “PBS stopped tweeting from our account when we learned of the change and we have no plans to resume at this time,” the public broadcasting network said in a statement to media, first provided to Axios. “We are continuing to monitor the ever-changing situation closely.”
PBS’ main Twitter page has 2.2 million followers. Its profile states, “PBS’s editorial independence is central to our work and will never change. We produce trustworthy content that features unbiased reporting.”
Boston public radio station WBUR, LAist and Hawaii Public Radio had also stopped tweeting because of the labels, Business Insider reported.
This story was updated April 13 to include the development that PBS also retired its Twitter accounts.