Could this be the beginning of a more significant shift away from Twitter?
This week, both NPR and PBS both announced that they’ll stop using Twitter as a means to connect with their respective audiences, due to the various changes at the app under new owner Elon Musk.
April 12, 2023
Most notably, both publishers have objected to Twitter’s new ‘Government-funded media’ tag on their accounts, which they see as an attempt to sow distrust in traditional media, and the content that they produce.
Because, really, almost every company could technically be labeled as government-funded, even Twitter itself, and definitely Musk’s other companies. NPR is 1% funded by government subsidies, so it’s not like there’s a relevant threshold for this implication. But as per Musk’s repeated attacks on legacy media, and the biases that he believes they embody, the new Twitter owner seems intent on undermining public trust in outlets that he personally doesn’t like, however he can, even if such labels could be misleading.
NPR, which has over 50 affiliated Twitter accounts, and almost 18m cumulative followers, and PBS, at 2.2 million, have both worked to establish their Twitter presence over time, and their decision to pause their tweet activities will have some impact on Twitter discourse. But it could have a larger impact on Twitter itself, with the platform increasingly looking more like Parler, and other right-wing echo-chamber apps, as Musk and Co. look to bully publishers, while also moving to amplify tweets from Musk’s supporters.
Indeed, from this week, Twitter will make a change to its systems which will mean that the only tweets that are recommended in Twitter’s main ‘For You’ feed will come from Twitter Blue subscriber accounts. Twitter Blue subscribers account for less than 1% of Twitter’s overall userbase, and the majority of those paying users are aligned with Musk’s vision – which means that this change will likely make your For You feed a lot more Musk-friendly.
And with Elon also criticizing the BBC, the New York Times, and various other outlets, it seems inevitable that, eventually, more of these providers will be re-considering their Twitter presence too, which will leave your tweet feed more and more aligned with Musk’s own personal perspective on the news of the day, while drowning out counter-narratives.
In itself, that’s a risk. Musk regularly buys into conspiracy theories and misinformation that aligns with his own bias, and regularly either deletes tweets or walks things back. But more than that, the loss of major news outlets could eventually erode Twitter’s relevance as an information platform, which is the key element that’s driven its relevance, and made it a critical place to be for journalists and newshounds to disseminate the latest updates.
Right now, many users are keen for alternatives. There isn’t one, which is why Twitter hasn’t suffered any big usage losses as yet, but the opportunity is ripe for a Twitter alternative to step in and become the new place to be for journalists and publishers. Mastodon is still too complicated for regular users, while Bluesky remains in early beta. But it does feel like, as Twitter implements the coming For You feed change, then removes legacy checkmarks a week after that, the time is coming that will see a seismic shift in the online information landscape, which could render Twitter less relevant, very quickly.
Whether you agree with the work of journalists or not, the concept that every publication – or every publication that you disagree with - is radically biased is not correct. There’s not some centralized network that communicates narratives to publications, independent journalists have dedicated their lives to investigating the truth, and communicating complex stories to their audiences. This is a skill, and slating all journalists who don’t agree with your perspective is an unfair and unjust critique.
The end result is not greater equality, or improved share of voice. It doesn’t lead to more truth, as Musk keeps saying. No, the final outcome will be a more biased platform, which will eventually turn users away, as demonstrated by Parler, Truth Social and every other partisan platform.
The loss of major publications is another step in this direction, and while I’m not forecasting the collapse of Twitter anytime soon, as it becomes a less welcoming space for certain voices, it may also become a less relevant one, overall.