WASHINGTON (AP) — Elon Musk threatened to transfer NPR’s Twitter account to “another company,” according to the nonprofit news organization, in an ongoing feud between Musk and media groups since his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter last year.
“So is NPR going to start publishing on Twitter again or should we transfer @NPR to another company?” Musk wrote in an email late Tuesday to NPR reporter Bobby Allyn.
NPR stopped tweeting from its main account after Twitter abruptly labeled NPR̵[ads1]7;s main account as “government-affiliated media” ” last month, a term that has also been used to identify outlets controlled or heavily influenced by authoritarian governments. Twitter then changed its label to “government-funded media.”
NPR said both labels were inaccurate and undermined its credibility — noting that the nonprofit news company operates independently of the U.S. government. Federal funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting makes up less than 1% of NPR’s annual operating budget, the company said.
The most recent tweets on NPR’s main account are from April 12 — when the news organization shared a thread about other places readers and listeners can find its journalism.
Twitter temporarily slapped other news organizations – including the BBC and PBS – with “government-funded media”. PBS also stopped using its Twitter account in response.
In an article written by Allyn late Tuesday, NPR’s technology reporter described the messages the billionaire owner of Twitter sent regarding NPR’s account. Musk pointed to NPR’s choice to stop tweeting as justification for any reassignment of the account.
“Our policy is to recycle handles that are definitely dormant,” Musk wrote in an email. “The same policy applies to all accounts. No special treatment for NPR.”
In accordance Twitter’s Online Policy, the social media platform determines an account’s inactivity based on logging in — not tweeting. Twitter says 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 don’t always line up, and it’s uncertain whether he will actually reassign NPR’s handle, regardless of Twitter’s published guidelines for account activity.
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 former “government-funded media” label, since April. The Associated Press contacted NPR for comment early Wednesday.
Musk disbanded Twitter’s media and PR department after the takeover.
As of Wednesday, the NPR Twitter handle still appeared to belong to NPR. If Musk assigns the account to another user, experts warn of misinformation and further loss of credibility.
“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,” Zeve Sanderson, executive director of New York University’s Center for Social Media and Politics told the Associated Press.
“For journalism, not only are there brand safety concerns, but in addition to that, there are a ton of concerns about misinformation that could potentially be perceived as much more credible — because someone (could be) tweeting from the NPR handle when it really isn’t it. them,” Sanderson added.
It is the latest salvo in what many experts describe as a frightening and uncertain landscape for journalism on Twitter since Musk bought the company in October.
In addition to removing the news organization’s verifications and temporarily adding “government-funded media” labels to 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, director of digital policy at the literary organization PEN America, said it is “hard to imagine a more potent example of Musk’s willingness to use Twitter to arbitrarily intimidate and retaliate against any individual or organization that annoys him, with or without provocation.”
“It’s a purely authoritarian tactic, apparently intended to undermine one of the nation’s premier and most trusted news organizations — one that is especially important to rural communities across the United States,” Woolery added in a Wednesday statement to The Associated Press.
AP Technology Writers Matt O’Brien and Barbara Ortutay contributed to this report.