June 9, 2023

Enlarge / RT’s Twitter profile, no longer labeled as “Russia state-affiliated media.”

Twitter has removed “government-funded” and “state-affiliated” labels from media accounts, including those of public broadcasters in the US and the accounts of state-controlled news organizations in China and Russia. The RT and Xinhua Twitter accounts were previously labeled “Russia state-affiliated media” and “China state-affiliated media,” but those labels disappeared sometime yesterday or today.

RT describes itself on its Twitter profile as promoting “freedom over censorship, truth over narrative,” and the profile now has no indication that it’s controlled by the Russian government. China’s Xinhua state news agency, also now unlabeled by Twitter, calls itself “public media for the public good” that doesn’t “yield to the pressure of ideological stigmatization and political bias.”

Other state-affiliated media outlets had their labels removed by Twitter. “State-backed Dot Dot News posted a screenshot of its Twitter account on Friday with a caption that said: ‘the label is gone! China state-affiliated media is gone,'” the Hong Kong Free Press wrote. Dot Dot News is located in Hong Kong but is described as being pro-Beijing. Hong Kong broadcaster RTHK lost its state-affiliated media tag as well.

Chinese state media outlets Global Times, People’s Daily, and CGTN had their labels removed, the report said, adding that personal accounts of state-media journalists are no longer labeled. “Twitter is blocked in China, however many Chinese outlets, officials and journalists circumvent the block to use it,” the report said.

Twitter also recently stopped limiting the reach of tweets from certain government accounts by removing the “visibility filtering rules” previously applied to those accounts, NPR reported today. “The previous guardrails on government accounts in Russia, China and Iran have now been removed, according to two former Twitter employees who spoke to NPR on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution,” NPR wrote.

Labels removed from NPR, PBS, CBC, and BBC

At the same time that state-affiliated labels were deleted, Twitter removed “government-funded” labels recently applied to NPR, PBS, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Twitter similarly removed the “publicly funded media” label recently applied to the BBC.

In early April, Elon Musk’s Twitter controversially labeled NPR as “US state-affiliated media,” the same designation typically applied to propaganda outlets controlled by governments in countries without substantial free press protections. Musk later changed NPR’s tag to “government-funded media,” even though NPR gets less than 1 percent of its annual funding directly from the US government.

NPR stopped posting on Twitter in response. PBS and the CBC did the same after getting their own government-funded labels.

There was some speculation that the removal of government-funded and state-affiliated labels was accidental, given that it happened while Twitter was removing blue checkmarks from accounts that don’t pay for a subscription. But the main Twitter policy page that described the government-funded and state-affiliated labels was deleted entirely, suggesting the change is intentional.

Twitter’s media-labeling policy used to say that “State-financed media organizations with editorial independence, like the BBC in the UK or NPR in the US for example, are not defined as state-affiliated media for the purposes of this policy.” Twitter removed that part after Musk decided to apply labels to NPR and the BBC.

You can still read the old policy at a different Twitter help page. That one was never updated to remove NPR and the BBC, so it was out of date even before this week.

The page also still explains Twitter’s previous policy of labeling state-controlled media accounts. “We believe that people benefit from additional context when interacting with Chinese government and state-affiliated accounts,” the page says. “Labels on state-affiliated accounts provide additional context about accounts that are controlled by certain official representatives of governments, state-affiliated media entities and individuals closely associated with those entities.”

Label for independent public media “misleads audiences”

A group of public broadcasters called the Global Task Force for public media had called on Twitter to remove the government-funded label from organizations with editorial independence, specifically the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), the CBC, Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), and Radio New Zealand (RNZ).

“Twitter’s own policy defines government-funded media as cases where the government ‘may have varying degrees of government involvement over editorial content,’ which is clearly not the case with ABC, CBC/Radio-Canada, KBS or RNZ,” the group said. “The editorial independence of all four national public broadcasters is protected in law and enshrined in their editorial policies. Labelling them in this way misleads audiences about their operational and editorial independence from government.”

A CBC spokesperson said on Friday that the news organization is “reviewing this latest development and will leave our [Twitter] accounts on pause before taking any next steps.”

We asked NPR and PBS about the label removals and will update this article if we get any response. We contacted Twitter’s media relations email address today and received the customary auto-replied poop emoji in return.

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