Musk under fire for changing Twitter rules on state media | Social Media News

Taipei, Taiwan – Scrolling through Twitter over the past few weeks, Sarah Hurst, a freelance journalist in the UK, began noticing changes in the way the platform displayed certain government and media accounts.

Hurst, who writes about Russia and Ukraine, started seeing more tweets from Russian government accounts, Russian state media and government spokespersons in his “For You” tab.

Twitter launched the tab in January as a new default view for users, displaying algorithmically selected tweets as well as those from accounts the user follows.

“Previously, in your settings, you could choose to organize tweets by ‘top tweets’ or chronologically in your News Feed. I usually had it on the ‘top tweets’ so I didn’t miss the bigger stories,” Hurst told Al Jazeera.

“Now every time I open ‘For You’ I see a flood of propaganda reports from the Russian and Chinese governments.”

“I campaigned against [Russian President Vladimir] Putin since he annexed Crimea in 2014,” Hurst added.

Whether by accident or design, Twitter gives greater prominence to government and state media accounts that are often criticized for spreading disinformation, such as Russia’s RT and China’s Global Times.

The changes appear to include subtle improvements to state-affiliated accounts as well as higher placement in user feeds.

In a Substack article last month, Wenhao Ma, a reporter for the US government-funded Voice of America, said that top search results for Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s name and the phrase “US-China ” were messages from Chinese. state media denouncing Tsai and the US government.

Elon Musk
Elon Musk has ushered in sweeping changes to Twitter since buying the social media giant last year [Hannibal Hanschke/pool photo via AP]

The latest changes at the social media giant, which has undergone significant upheaval since its takeover by billionaire tech leader Elon Musk, have sparked concern among journalists and disinformation scholars – as well as wider debate. wide on what counts as disinformation or propaganda and who decides. .

Some analysts say the apparent changes to Twitter’s algorithm have troubling implications for public discourse, democracy and the future of the platform itself.

“Clearly the algorithm has changed and what counts as ‘to you’ has changed,” Darren Linvill, an associate professor at Clemson University in South Carolina who studies network misinformation, told Al Jazeera. social.

“Twitter has historically been very good at giving people only what they are vaguely looking for, so I think a normal person would be surprised that most of Twitter was a combination of K-Pop and porn. didn’t give you that. Elon is trying to shake things up and clearly he’s playing with an algorithm that they’ve been developing for over a decade to successfully give people what they want.

Timothy Graham, senior lecturer in digital media at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), said the site’s recommendations are now “a bit out of control” compared to the more curated approach before.

“Some people see harmful war propaganda related to the war in Ukraine coming from Russia and ministers, or diplomatic accounts, or Russia Today,” Graham said.

Prior to Musk’s purchase of Twitter last October, the platform took steps to reduce the reach of some state-affiliated accounts.

In 2020, Twitter introduced the “state-affiliated media” label, which it defines as “outlets where the state exercises control over editorial content through financial resources, direct political pressure or indirect and/or control over production and distribution”.

In practice, this label was almost exclusively applied to Russian and Chinese government media accounts, although Twitter initially said the label would be rolled out to media in the five countries that sit on the United Nations Security Council – China, Russia, France, United States United States and the United Kingdom.

The platform’s guidelines ultimately excluded outlets like the BBC in the UK and National Public Radio, also known as NPR, in the US, both of which receive government funding but are widely seen as editorially independent.

These rules, however, change – sometimes on an almost daily basis.

Elon Musk has been criticized for briefly calling NPR a ‘state-affiliated media’ [Charles Dharapak/AP]

Last week, Musk appeared to alter Twitter’s definition of “state-affiliated media” by briefly adding the label to NPR, a media outlet that right-wing Americans often accuse of having a liberal bias.

The label was pulled days after critics returned who defended NPR’s record of editorial independence and noted that government funding accounts for just 2% of the outlet’s budget, although some US conservatives and media workers Chinese state media have praised the etiquette of state media.

Twitter added a new “government funded media” tag to NPR’s account in its place.

The designation, which has also been applied to the BBC, PBS and Voice of America in recent days, refers to “outlets where the government provides some or all of the funding for the outlet and may have varying degrees of government involvement in editorial content”.

The new label was not added to some other state-funded outlets, including Al Jazeera and France 24, which are funded by the Qatari and French governments respectively.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.

But in an interview with the BBC on Wednesday, Musk said: “We want it to be as truthful and accurate as possible – we’re adjusting the label to “[the BBC being] publicly funded – we’ll try to be specific.

Earlier this week, Musk reportedly told one of NPR’s reporters, “If you really think the government has no influence over whatever entity it funds, you’ve marinated in Kool-Aid too long. “

Taken together, the changes to Twitter make it easier to spread propaganda and “fake news” about current events, including major conflicts like the war in Ukraine, said Graham, the QUT speaker.

“Some of them are conspiracy theories about the neo-Nazi takeover of Ukraine. All of them are trying to justify and provide this narrative justification for what Russia is doing, and all of them are trying to appeal to an audience who will somehow amplify them,” he said.

“It’s not that kind of hypodermic needle model like they’re injecting you with false information and then you believe it and start spreading it out,” Graham added.

“But it’s more than like we’re entering a situation where these false and misleading narratives that pollute and just cause chaos…[and] be oxygenated by the rest of the media ecosystem. When that happens, it’s basically state media pay.

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