Twitter appeared to have removed all labels from the accounts of news outlets and government organisations, including those for Chinese state media. The move followed several major Western news organisations quitting the platform after being labelled “state-affiliated media.”

RTHK Twitter 2023.4.21
The “State-affiliated media” label was removed on RTHK’s Twitter account.

Hong Kong news outlets, including broadcaster RTHK and online media DotDotNews, were among the organisations whose “state-affiliated media” labels were removed by the tech platform.

State-backed DotDotNews posted a screenshot of its Twitter account on Friday with a caption that said: “the label is gone! China state-affiliated media is gone.”

The tags for other Chinese state media, such as Global Times, People’s Daily, Xinhua and CGTN, as well as for Russian state media, were also scrapped. The personal accounts of state-media journalists, including Global Times’ commentator Hu Xijin, were no longer labelled as China state-affiliated, too. Twitter is blocked in China, however many Chinese outlets, officials and journalists circumvent the block to use it.

Hu has been among those calling for the labels to be removed.

The labelling system for government and state-affiliated media accounts was introduced in August 2020, and Twitter previously limited the reach and impact of state media accounts, such as those from China and Russia. This led to fewer likes and shares garnered by Chinese news outlets’ tweets, analysis by the China Media Project showed.

However, US media recently reported that under Elon Musk – who acquired the platform for US$44 billion last year – the rules were relaxed.

The page on government and media labels on Twitter’s website no longer exists. However, another page about government and state-affiliated media account labels on Twitter is still accessible.

On that page, Twitter said: “We believe that people benefit from additional context when interacting with Chinese government and state-affiliated accounts.”

It also stated that “State-financed media organizations with editorial independence, like the BBC in the UK or NPR in the US for example, are not defined as state-affiliated media for the purposes of this policy.”

China state media twitter
The “State-affiliated media” badges on Chinese state media’s Twitter account were gone.

This month, both the BBC and NPR were among those labelled “state-affiliated,” before Twitter backed down and modified the label to “government-funded media.” However, NPR maintained that it was an inaccurate description as only less than 1 per cent of its annual budget came from the federally funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

NPR was among several major outlets to announce it would quit Twitter because of the “misleading” label.

According to Twitter, state-affiliated media accounts belong to media outlets where the state exercises control over editorial content. In it, Twitter added that it believed that people benefit from additional context when interacting with Chinese government and state-affiliated accounts.

Musk recently announced plans to visit China earlier, with Reuters reporting he was seeking a meeting with Premier Li Qiang. Earlier this month, Musk’s electric car company Tesla said it hoped to build an electric vehicle battery factory in Shanghai.

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Lea Mok is a multimedia reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously contributed to StandNews, The Initium, MingPao and others. She holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.