The decision of social media platform Twitter under ownership of tech mogul Elon Musk to label National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service as “U.S. state-affiliated media” caused the prominent news outlets to respond by ending use of Twitter. This conflict is the latest in an escalating series of conflicts between Musk and media outlets of multiple stripes.

Mike Horning, an associate professor of multimedia journalism at Virginia Tech’s School of Communication, provides perspective on Twitter’s increasingly volatile relationship with news organizations and the advantages and disadvantages of Musk’s approach.

Q: Twitter has for years been journalists’ social media platform of choice. Why would Elon Musk push back against this?

“Since purchasing Twitter, Musk has tried to position himself as the antidote for a tech industry that he believes has been oppressive to both certain forms of speech and certain political views. He sees the media as complicit in supporting those dominant ideologies that are favored by social media companies, so it is not surprising to see him antagonize those forms of media that he feels have not objectively reported news.”

Q: How might this affect Twitter as a business?

“So far, it seems that this approach is only further alienating some media companies and some audiences on Twitter. However, research shows that almost half of the audience on Twitter goes there to get news. Musk no doubt knows this and may feel that news organizations will eventually need to come back to Twitter if they want to distribute their content to their audience.”

Q: What alternatives do news organizations have when it comes to social media platforms?

“News organizations must grapple with the fact that, given changes to Facebook’s algorithms, their content has less emphasis there. News organizations could perhaps look to TikTok as another place to distribute their content, but with that app currently under congressional scrutiny, that may not be an ideal option. Thus, Twitter still remains an important resource for news organizations that want to get their content into social streams.”

Q: Is there any way these conflicts work in Elon Musk’s favor?

“Musk gains a few things by this behavior. General trust in the news media has been on a decline for decades. These trust levels are particularly low among Republicans and independents. By taking on ‘big media,’ Musk is able to position his version of Twitter among those two demographics as a place that may be more open to an exchange of ideas. That may attract new users to Twitter in the future, but so far things haven't worked out that way.”

About Michael Horning 
Mike Horning is an associate professor of multimedia journalism in the Virginia Tech School of Communication. His research examines how communication technologies impact social attitudes and behaviors, with a current focus on the impact of “fake news” and misinformation on our democratic processes. His expertise has been featured in The Hill, on Sinclair Broadcast Group, and in a number of other media outlets. Read more about him here.

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