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'Shameless': Reporters Without Borders rebukes X for claiming to support it

Elon Musk's X, the former Twitter, is being rebuked by a press freedom group that says the company wrongly claimed to support it. Musk has faced a string of controversies since buying Twitter in 2022.
Michael M. Santiago
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Getty Images
Elon Musk's X, the former Twitter, is being rebuked by a press freedom group that says the company wrongly claimed to support it. Musk has faced a string of controversies since buying Twitter in 2022.

A pair of tweets this week from X, the former Twitter, seemed meant to soften the perception that under Elon Musk's ownership, the platform is abdicating important responsibilities and degrading public discourse. The company used the messages to highlight rights organizations it says it backs.

"The X platform boldly champions the vital principles of free speech and community safety," the company's official @Safety account declared on Tuesday.

"In a world where these values are constantly challenged," it added, X is proud to support organizations such as Reporters Without Borders, which fights the repression of journalism. The tweet left some commenters with the impression that X actively supports the group, through financial or other means.

Then came the fact-check.

"Elon Musk's company is a haven for disinformation and in no way an ally to an organization defending journalism," Reporters Without Borders said in an email to NPR.

While the group had accepted advertising credits from Twitter before Musk took over, Reporters Without Borders said, it does not receive "any form of support from X whatsoever."

Press-freedom group says X recently offered ad credits

The tweet from X's Safety account came days after the platform offered 25,000 euros' worth of advertising credits to Paris-based Reporters Without Borders. A follow-up tweet from X CEO Linda Yaccarino celebrated "shining a spotlight on the remarkable organizations worldwide that are making a significant impact through their vital work."

There was just one problem: Reporters Without Borders, also known as Reporters Sans Frontières or RSF, says it turned the money down.

"What a shameless, audacious assertion!" RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire said in a statement sent to NPR. "Linda Yaccarino and her team are deluding themselves."

The year 2020 was the last time the group accepted ad credits, it said. Musk bought Twitter in 2022.

If Yaccarino wants to support press freedom, Deloire said, she should consult his group's 10 recommendations for her when she took the job leading X. The list ranges from reinstating the former account-certification process to repairing relationships with the media and rebuilding X's ability to combat disinformation.

X is nearing the end of a bumpy year

The kerfuffle comes as X has been seen allowing propaganda to flow from accounts linked to governments in Russia, China and Iran. Earlier this year, researchers also found that since Musk took over, the company has sharply increased its compliance with takedown requests from governments and courts.

In the face of criticism, Musk insists he is devoted to free speech in its most public and transparent forms and that it's up to people to decide for themselves what to believe. In that vein, he has held online polls to decide that figures like the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and former President Donald Trump should be allowed back on the platform.

Musk has also thumbed his nose at the advertiser backlash that has seen big spenders like Walmart, Disney and Apple avoid X rather than be affiliated with the brand, after Musk amplified an antisemitic message.

As former advertising executive Lou Paskalis recently told NPR, "If your CEO is on a different sheet of music than the rest of the company, it really requires a lot of suspension of disbelief that those views aren't imbued in the company."

Other groups were in X's tweet

The original message from X's Safety account mentioned two other groups alongside RSF. One of them, Netsafe New Zealand, ceased posting on X in July.

The other organization, the Europe-based International Network Against Cyber Hate, recently issued a paper on online antisemitism in the first month of the Israel-Hamas war, saying it found more antisemitic content on X than the other top three social platforms (Facebook , Instagram, and TikTok) combined.

Netsafe and the INACH did not reply to requests for comments before this story published.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.