Twitter removes 'government-funded media' tags, blue checks

Twitter removed the "government-funded media" tag on public broadcasters, including the CBC, on Thursday without any explanation.

Organizations such as CBC noted Twitter's label defied its own definition of 'government-funded'

Twitter logo.
A Twitter logo is shown in an illustration. While Twitter hasn't explained why it removed the 'government-funded media' tag on public broadcasters, the move comes after the Global Task Force for Public Media called out the tech company. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Twitter removed the "government-funded media" tag on public broadcasters, including the CBC, on Thursday without any explanation.

The move came after the Global Task Force for Public Media called on Twitter earlier in the day to correct its description of public broadcasters in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea.

The group chaired by CBC president Catherine Tait had said Twitter applied the label without warning to the accounts of CBC/Radio-Canada, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (known as ABC), the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) and Radio New Zealand (RNZ).

It noted that Twitter's own policy defines government-funded media as those that may have varying degrees of government involvement over editorial content.

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The task force said that was not the case here, where editorial independence is protected by law and enshrined in editorial policies.

It said the most accurate label would be "publicly funded media."

Twitter initially labelled several accounts with the British Broadcasting Corporation "government-funded media," but changed that to "publicly funded media" after the BBC objected.

The BBC is also a member of the Global Task Force, as well as France Télévisions, Germany's ZDF and Sweden's SVT.

"Labelling them in this way misleads audiences about their operational and editorial independence from government," the task force said Thursday in a release.

CBC raised similar objections, and Brodie Fenlon, editor-in-chief and executive director of programs and standards for CBC News, explained why the media organization was pausing activity on its Twitter accounts.

"We cannot in good conscience continue to post fact-based news and information to Twitter, or engage on it, while a false impression of government involvement in our work is allowed to stand," Fenlon wrote. "As a news organization committed to truth, facts and accuracy, we cannot abide by a label that promotes disinformation about who we are and what we do."

CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson said Friday the organization is "reviewing this latest development and will leave our [Twitter] accounts on pause before taking any next steps."

Twitter also dropped the "state-affiliated media" tag on the accounts of China's Xinhua News and Russia's RT. 

Checks vanish

Tesla and SpaceX billionaire Elon Musk ushered in several changes after buying Twitter for $44 billion US last October.

One of the changes was to remove the blue checks from accounts that don't pay a monthly fee to keep them, and it appeared Twitter was beginning to make good on that promise Thursday.

Twitter had about 300,000 verified users under the original blue-check system it started about 14 years ago — many of them journalists, athletes and public figures. Along with shielding celebrities from impersonators, one of the main reasons for the check was to provide an extra tool to curb misinformation coming from accounts impersonating people.

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High-profile users who lost their blue checks Thursday included Beyoncé, Pope Francis, BTS, Oprah Winfrey and former president Donald Trump.

One of Musk's first product moves after taking over Twitter was to launch a service granting blue checks to anyone willing to pay $8 US a month. But it was quickly inundated by impostor accounts, including those impersonating Nintendo, pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Musk's businesses Tesla and SpaceX, so Twitter had to temporarily suspend the service days after its launch.

The relaunched service costs $8 a month for web users and $11 a month for users of its iPhone or Android apps. The costs of keeping the marks ranges from a starting price of $1,000 monthly to verify an organization, plus $50 monthly for each affiliate or employee account. Twitter does not verify the individual accounts, as was the case with the previous blue check doled out during the platform's pre-Musk administration.

Subscribers are supposed to see fewer ads, be able to post longer videos and have their tweets featured more prominently.

Celebrity users, from basketball star LeBron James to author Stephen King and Star Trek's William Shatner, have balked at joining — although on Thursday, all three had blue checks, indicating that the account paid for verification.

Musk later tweeted he had personally paid for King, Shatner and James to retain their checks.

Uptake not expected to be revenue bonanza

It wasn't just celebrities and journalists who lost their blue checks Thursday. Many government agencies, nonprofits and public-service accounts around the world found themselves no longer verified, raising concerns that Twitter could lose its status as a platform for getting accurate, up-to-date information from authentic sources, including in emergencies.

While Twitter offers gold checks for "verified organizations" and grey checks for government organizations and their affiliates, it's not clear how the platform doles these out, and they were not seen Thursday on many previously verified agency and public service accounts.

The official Twitter account of the New York City government, which earlier had a blue check, tweeted on Thursday, "This is an authentic Twitter account representing the New York City Government This is the only account for @NYCGov run by New York City government" in an attempt to clear up confusion.

A newly created spoof account with 36 followers, also without a blue check, disagreed: "No, you're not. THIS account is the only authentic Twitter account representing and run by the New York City Government."

Fewer than five per cent of legacy verified accounts appear to have paid to join Twitter Blue as of Thursday, according to an analysis by Travis Brown, a Berlin-based developer of software for tracking social media.

Digital intelligence platform Similarweb analyzed how many people signed up for Twitter Blue on their desktop computers and only detected 116,000 confirmed sign-ups last month, which at $8 or $11 per month does not represent a major revenue stream. The analysis, however, did not count accounts bought via mobile apps.

With files from CBC News and the Associated Press