In a ongoing spat between Elon Musk and media groups since his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter last year, NPR’s Twitter account has become the latest target of Musk’s ire. Twitter labeled NPR’s main account as “state-affiliated media” last month, a term that NPR says is inaccurate and undermines its credibility. As a result, NPR stopped tweeting from its main account. Twitter has since changed the label to “government-funded media.”
Musk, the billionaire owner of Twitter, has now threatened to reassign NPR’s Twitter account to “another company.” In an email late Tuesday to NPR reporter Bobby Allyn, Musk wrote, “So is NPR going to start posting on Twitter again, or should we reassign @NPR to another company?” Musk pointed to NPR’s choice to stop tweeting as justifying possibly reassigning the account. “Our policy is to recycle handles that are definitively dormant,” Musk wrote in one email. “Same policy applies to all accounts. No special treatment for NPR.”
NPR has said that both “state-affiliated media” and “government-funded media” labels are inaccurate and that the nonprofit news company operates independently of the U.S. government. Federal funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting accounts for less than 1% of NPR’s annual operating budget, the company said. The last tweets on NPR’s main account are from April 12, when the news organization shared a thread of other places readers and listeners can find its journalism.
According to Twitter’s online policy, the social media platform determines an account’s inactivity based on logging on, not tweeting. Twitter says that users should log in at least every 30 days to keep their accounts active, and that “accounts may be permanently removed due to prolonged inactivity.” However, Musk’s comments and actions do not always match, and it is uncertain if he will actually reassign NPR’s handle, regardless of Twitter’s published policy on account activity.
When asked by NPR who would be willing to use NPR’s Twitter account, Musk replied, “National Pumpkin Radio,” along with a fire emoji and a laughing emoji, NPR reported. It is unknown if NPR has logged into its account, which currently has a blue check without the previous “government-funded media” label, since April. The Associated Press reached out to NPR for comment early Wednesday.
Musk disbanded Twitter’s media and public relations department after the takeover. Many experts describe the current landscape for journalism on Twitter as chilling and uncertain since Musk acquired the company in October. In addition to removing news organization’s verifications and temporarily adding labels like “government-funded media” on some accounts, Musk abruptly suspended the accounts of individual journalists who wrote about Twitter late last year.
In response to Musk’s Tuesday emails, Liz Woolery, digital policy lead at literary organization PEN America, said that it is “hard to imagine a more potent example of Musk’s willingness to use Twitter to arbitrarily intimidate and retaliate against any person or organization that irks him, with or without provocation.” “It’s a purely authoritarian tactic, seemingly intended to undermine one of the country’s premier and most trusted news organizations–one that is especially important to rural communities across the U.S.,” Woolery added in a Wednesday statement.
The potential reassignment of NPR’s Twitter account could lead to further loss of credibility and potential misinformation, given the importance of NPR as a trusted news organization, especially in rural communities across the U.S. It remains to be seen whether Musk will follow through on his threat.