In the latest of many childish moves that show Elon Musk's downright Trumpian disdain for the media, the billionaire owner of Twitter has reportedly been threatening National Public Radio over the news org's decision to stop using its Twitter account.
As you likely recall, Musk started this fight in early April when he slapped a "state-affiliated media" label on NPR's Twitter account, doing the same with the BBC. After some loud objections from NPR and plenty of negative media coverage, Musk changed the label to say "government-funded media," even though NPR was quick to point out that they only get 1% of their annual funding from the feds.
NPR responded by saying it was quitting Twitter, essentially, and the organization last tweeted on April 12. "NPR will no longer post fresh content to its 52 official Twitter feeds, becoming the first major news organization to go silent on the social media platform," the company said. "By going silent on Twitter, NPR's chief executive [John Lansing] says the network is protecting its credibility and its ability to produce journalism without 'a shadow of negativity.'"
"The downside, whatever the downside, doesn't change that fact," Lansing said at the time. "I would never have our content go anywhere that would risk our credibility."
Musk relented and took the label off of NPR's account around the time that the company was stripping many news organizations and celebrities of their "Verified" checkmarks. But NPR has not returned to tweeting.
This has apparently irked Musk enough that he's been emailing snarkily with an NPR reporter. As that reporter, Bobby Allyn, now reports, Musk emailed him on Tuesday, unprompted, to say, "So is NPR going to start posting on Twitter again, or should we reassign @NPR to another company?"
Musk added in another email, "Our policy is to recycle handles that are definitively dormant. Same policy applies to all accounts. No special treatment for NPR."
When asked who or what Twitter would reassign @NPR to, Musk allegedly replied, "National Pumpkin Radio," with a fire emoji and a laughing emoji after it. "NPR isn't tagged as government-funded anymore, so what's the beef?" Musk asked.
This email exchange — which maybe wouldn't have happened if Musk hadn't fired the whole comms department, but maybe it still would have! — has caused a stir and negative publicity of its own, with the Associated Press picking up the story.
"Potentially losing access to a handle as a form of pressure is really just a continuation of eroding the credibility of information sharing on Twitter," says Zeve Sanderson, executive director of New York University’s Center for Social Media and Politics, speaking to the AP. "For journalism, there’s not only brand safety concerns, but in addition to that, there are a ton of concerns around misinformation potentially being perceived as a lot more credible — because someone (could be) tweeting from from the NPR handle when it’s really not them."
"It’s a purely authoritarian tactic, seemingly intended to undermine one of the country’s premier and most trusted news organizations," says Liz Woolery, digital policy lead at literary organization PEN America, speaking to the AP.
And, Emily Bell, a professor at Columbia Journalism School and specialist in social media, commented to NPR, "If this is a sign of things to come on Twitter, we might soon see even more of a rapid retreat by media organizations and other brands that don't think it's worth the risk. It's really an extraordinary threat to make."
So yeah, another day, another news story about how Elon Musk is wielding Twitter like some kind of weapon.
In other news, Twitter's former Trust & Safety lead, Yoel Roth, just did a tell-all podcast/radio interview with This American Life (which is broadcast on NPR stations) about how the early days of Musk's tenure went at Twitter, and how he ultimately decided to quit. Roth became a target of right-wing loons after President Trump mentioned him by name and Elon Musk amplified a homophobic implication that he was a pedophile, forcing him to have to move out of his East Bay home last December, after quitting Twitter. The title of the This American Life episode: "What I Was Thinking As We Were Sinking."
Previously: Twitter Labels NPR ‘State-Affiliated Media’ In Musk's Latest Taunt at Mainstream Press
Photo: A view of the National Public Radio (NPR) headquarters on North Capitol Street February 22, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)