Now That Elon Musk Is Labeling NPR And The BBC As ‘Government Funded,’ Shouldn’t He Do The Same For Tesla, SpaceX, And Twitter?
from the kneejerk-decision-making-makes-you-a-jerk dept
Never a dull moment in Elonland. Last week, as you’ll recall, he decided that NPR should be labeled as “state-affiliated media” even though NPR was literally Twitter’s prime example of what kinds of independent media outlets don’t deserve that label.
What seemed to have happened is that some of the weird coterie of foolish people who Musk follows were doing one of their usual attacks on “the mainstream media” and someone highlighted how NPR should be seen as a government propaganda outfit, so without learning anything, Elon had that label applied to NPR.
But, there were two important things that Elon could have, and probably should have, learned before doing that and both of those things were easily discoverable with a simple Google search or by, you know, talking to people who work for him (though, it’s likely he fired all the people who could have explained this to him).
First: the reason for the “state affiliated” label was to highlight news media that were pure propaganda outfits that simply parrot government messaging, and are not actually independent journalists. The people who set that up could have told Musk the reasoning for it if he hadn’t fired all of them.
The whole point of “state-affiliated media” label was to warn users about publications that look perfectly legit, but where someone happening upon them might not realize that they were not editorially independent, and were a direct mouthpiece of the government.
NPR report Bobby Allyn got one ex-Twitter employee to explain:
A former Twitter executive who helped develop the platform’s state-affiliation labels said that editorial independence had long been the deciding factor in whether to issue the designation.
The People’s Daily in China, and Sputnik and RT in Russia, for instance, received the labels, but outlets with editorial autonomy that received some government funding did not.
“In the end, [we] felt that the most fair and balanced way to implement labels was to call out state connections that had a demonstrated track record of influencing content of news reporting,” the former Twitter executive said.
That meant that NPR, the government-funded outlet Voice of America, “and even Al Jazeera didn’t qualify under our designation,” the former employee said.
The point of the labels, the former executive said, was to help users understand what they’re seeing on the platform.
“That matters a lot when you see an outlet like Xinhua, have never heard of it, and it looks like a totally legit news source,” the former executive said about the state news agency that routinely pushes the official line of China’s President Xi Jinping.
Besides potentially besmirching the reputation of NPR, the label influences the reach of the network’s tweets.
Under Twitter’s rules, and according to the former executive, accounts that have been given the state-affiliated mark are not recommended or amplified on the platform — a process known as “downranking” among social media insiders.
For example, if someone who did not already follow Russian publications like RT or Sputnik searched for the government-backed publications on Twitter, the publications were not suggested, according to a second former Twitter employee who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. Accounts deemed affiliated with government, the employee said, were not allowed to advertise on Twitter. A list of what accounts received the label was never publicly revealed.
The other piece of information, Musk could have easily Googled, which Allyn pointed out in a separate interview he did on NPR in which he recounted the details of an email conversation he and Musk had over the past few days:
Well, he didn’t seem to understand the difference between public media and state-controlled media. He asked me at one point, quote, “what’s the breakdown of NPR’s annual funding?” And he asked, “who appoints leadership at NPR?” These are questions you can get by Googling, but for some reason he wanted to ask me. And also, let’s take a moment and pause on these questions, Mary Louise, because he made a major policy decision, right? And after doing so, he is just now asking for the basic facts. This is not exactly how most CEOs in America operate. Anyway, I answered his questions. About 1% of NPR’s budget is from federal grants, and an independent board appoints NPR’s CEO, who picks leadership.
So, Musk screwed up both pieces of information that he could have easily found out with a bit of simple Googling, and the other by asking some of the people he shouldn’t have fired (though, seriously, both of these things are pretty much common sense).
However, once Allyn started explaining this to Musk, Musk seemed to realize that he’d probably made a mistake.
Musk, in another email, compared NPR to media outlets controlled by governments of other countries, while also admitting “it sounds like” that might not be the case.
“The operating principle at new Twitter is simply fair and equal treatment, so if we label non-US accounts as govt, then we should do the same for US, but it sounds like that might not be accurate here,” he wrote.
It was a turnaround from a tweet he sent hours earlier that the state-affiliated label for NPR “seems accurate.”
But, of course, Musk can’t completely commit to admitting that he fucked up, so over the weekend, he changed the label on NPR from “state-affiliated media” to “government funded” and then later to “government funded media.”
This same label was also applied to the BBC, which seems less than pleased.
The BBC is objecting to a new label describing it as “government funded media” on one of its main Twitter accounts.
The corporation says it is speaking to the social media company about the designation on the @BBC account to “resolve this issue as soon as possible”.
In a statement, it said: “The BBC is, and always has been, independent. We are funded by the British public through the licence fee.”
I mean, to be fair, that “license fee” from the public is effectively mandatory.
But, still, this whole thing makes no sense. Again, there was a reason for the “state-affiliated media” label, which was to protect users from being misled, and giving them useful information for judging the quality of the news source they were encountering.
Musk, of course, still doesn’t seem to grasp the nature of trust and safety and how it’s supposed to be used to increase the feelings of trust and safety of the users of your site. Instead, he views it solely through the lens of how he can use it to help himself and punish those he dislikes, or thinks he needs to dislike.
The “Government Funded Media” label may not sound as sinister as “state-affiliated media” but what purpose does it actually serve? The only thing it does is allow Musk to effectively label the organization as one that has some sort of sketchy government connections.
Though, if that’s the case, shouldn’t Tesla and SpaceX be labeled as “government funded” as well? Tesla, somewhat famously, has relied tremendously on government subsidies to make its cars more affordable. Meanwhile, SpaceX basically only exists because of government funding. People have pointed out Musk’s extreme hypocrisy, in which he regularly attacks the idea of government subsidies, while relying heavily on them, but if the supposed problem is “government funding” needing to be called out, then clearly Tesla and SpaceX qualify.
Indeed, I’m almost wondering if the quick change from “Government Funded” to “Government Funded Media,” was in response to people on Twitter asking why Tesla and SpaceX didn’t get the same label.
Oh, and meanwhile, we should note that Twitter also should be labeled as “Government Funded” and possibly “Government Funded Media,” considering how much money the Saudi government invested in Twitter, and rolled over into the deal when Musk took it over. This has also been subject to many conspiracy theories, most of which are nonsense.
But, considering that Musk labeled NPR based on nonsense conspiracy theories, it seems only fair that he should do the same with his own companies. Either that or admit that just because an organization received some funds or subsidies from the government, it doesn’t make them a government-controlled entity.