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Elon Musk has threatened to reallocate NPR’s Twitter account to “another company.”
In a series of emails sent to this reporter, Musk suggested that he would transfer the network’s main Twitter account, under @NPR, to another organization or person. The idea shocked even longtime observers of Musk’s erratic leadership style.
Social media experts said that handing over created accounts to third parties presents a serious risk of impersonation and can put the company’s reputation at risk.
“If this is a sign of things coming up on Twitter, we may soon see more rapid pushbacks by media organizations and other brands that don’t think it’s worth the risk,” said Emily Bell, a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism. Who studies social media. “It’s a really extraordinary threat.”
Last month, NPR effectively pulled off Twitter after Musk applied a label to the news organization’s account that falsely indicated it was state-controlled. Other public media organizations, including PBS and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, followed suit and stopped tweeting following similar ratings.
Musk has since removed the tags, but the outlets originally targeted have not resumed public activity on Twitter.
Musk: “Should NPR be reassigned to another company?”
In an unprecedented email Tuesday, Musk wrote: “So is NPR going to start posting to Twitter again, or should @NPR be reassigned to another company?”
under Twitter Terms of ServiceAccount inactivity is based on logging in, not tweeting. These rules state that the account must be logged in at least every 30 days, and that “prolonged inactivity” can result in its permanent removal.
Musk didn’t answer when asked if he planned to change the platform’s definition of inactivity and declined to say what prompted his new questions about NPR’s inactivity on Twitter.
“Our policy is to permanently recycle inactive knobs,” Musk wrote in another email. “Same policy applies to all accounts. No special treatment for NPR.”
The threat of retaliation is the latest barrage in the months-long feud between Musk and the media organizations that have existed since the billionaire bought Twitter in October.
Musk has always attacked the media and tried to discredit journalists. The Twitter CEO has suspended reporters who have published or promoted stories critical of him. Musk has stripped, and sometimes reissued, “verified” blue check marks to news organizations and individual journalists.
By providing “verified” blue checks for recent purchases, Musk has created a turbulent social media landscape, blurring the lines between users between what’s real and what’s fake on one of the most influential social networks.
Musk to NPR: “So what is beef?”
His suggestion on Tuesday that he might transfer NPR’s primary Twitter account with nearly 9 million followers to another entity is typical of how Musk runs the social media site.
As is often the case with Musk, it is not clear whether or not he will follow through on the threat.
One former Twitter executive was taken aback by the comment, telling NPR that such a threat should be troubling for any company operating on the site, because it suggests that acquiescence to Musk’s every whim may be necessary to avoid impersonation.
For most of its 17-year history, Twitter has had rules that maintain some level of order and give individuals and organizations some control over their presence on the platform.
Former NPR CEO John Lansing said he had lost faith in “Twitter’s decision-making,” and that more time was needed to determine if Twitter could be trusted again.
A spokeswoman for NPR declined to comment further.
Musk, whose remarks to reporters were riddled with jokes, insults or attempts at trolling, responded with sarcasm when asked who might take over NPR’s Twitter account.
“National Pumpkin Radio,” Musk wrote, adding a fire emoji and a laughing emoji to describe the fictional pumpkin-themed broadcaster’s content. “NPR is no longer marked as government-funded, so what is beef?”
Disclosure: This story was reported and written by NPR Tech Reporter Bobby Allyn and edited by Business Editor Lisa Lambert. Under NPR’s own reporting protocol, no company official or news executive reviewed this story before it was made public.