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Twitter Drops 'State-Affiliated,' 'Government-Funded' Labels from Major News Outlets


FILE - A sign at Twitter headquarters is shown in San Francisco, Dec. 8, 2022.

After being criticized for labeling independent public broadcasters as state-affiliated or government-funded, Twitter this week changed course and removed all labels, including for Chinese and Russian state-run propaganda operations.

As of Friday, China's Xinhua and Global Times, as well as Russia's RT and Tass, were no longer identified as state-affiliated media.

Public broadcasters and media outlets that receive government or public funding but maintain editorial independence, like Voice of America, the BBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and NPR, were also affected. Twitter did not announce the changes.

These developments followed weeks of controversy over Twitter's inconsistent labeling of state-run and government-funded media accounts under Elon Musk's ownership of the platform.

Earlier this month, Twitter added "government-funded" labels to the main accounts for National Public Radio, the BBC and VOA. Twitter later changed the BBC's label to "publicly funded." Those labels have now been removed.

Twitter did not immediately reply to VOA's request for comment.

No 'easy solution'

Katie Harbath, chief executive at the tech policy firm Anchor Change and a former director of public policy at Facebook, told VOA it seemed that "Elon doesn't want to do the hard work to figure out the nuances of these types of situations."

"Transparency is important so people have more context of who they are getting news from," she added. It "seems like he wants an easy solution that doesn't exist."

A Twitter page outlining the platform's policies on state-backed media appear to have been deleted, according to Al Jazeera.

Previously, Twitter's platform guidelines defined government and state-affiliated media "as outlets where the state exercises control over editorial content through financial resources, direct or indirect political pressures, and/or control over production and distribution."

The policy change came after outlets including NPR and the Public Broadcasting Service said they would no longer post on Twitter because of what they viewed as efforts to undermine their legitimacy.

"The confusion between media serving the general interest and propaganda media is dangerous, and is yet further proof that social media platforms are not competent to identify what is and is not journalism," Vincent Berthier, head of the technology desk at Reporters Without Borders, said in a statement earlier this month.

'Disservice' to users

Matthew Baise, VOA's director of digital strategy, said Friday that Twitter was "doing a disservice to its users" by treating independent news outlets the same way as those controlled by "autocratic governments."

"Twitter needs to draw a sharp distinction between state-funded versus state-controlled news agencies," he said. "VOA is protected by law from political interference and should not be labeled the same as organizations that mimic news agencies while being directly controlled by their governments."

VOA, which is funded by Congress, has laws and regulations, including a firewall, to protect it from political interference.

Some information for this report came from Reuters and The Associated Press.