Russia, China, Iran state media see boost on X after removal of ‘state-affiliated’ labels

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The accounts of several Russian, Chinese and Iranian state media outlets saw a 70 percent increase in engagement on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, after it removed labels identifying them as “state-affiliated,” according to a new report released Tuesday.

The recent analysis from NewsGuard, which analyzes media trends and disinformation, found that 12 state media accounts from the three countries saw the number of likes and reposts on their content jump from 2.93 million in the 90 days before X removed the “state-affiliated” labels to 4.98 million in the 90-day period afterward.

Russia’s RT, which was already receiving substantially more engagement than the other state media outlets before the label’s removal, saw interactions with its posts nearly double in the three months after the change, jumping from 1.3 million to 2.5 million.

Iran’s PressTV similarly saw its engagement increase by about 97 percent, rising from 215,000 to 425,000 interactions after X’s removal of the “state-affiliated” label, according to NewsGuard. 

Russia’s TASS also saw a 63 percent increase in engagement, receiving 493,000 interactions in the three months after the change, while engagement with posts from China’s Global Times rose by 26 percent to 314,000 interactions.

X, which has repeatedly sparked controversy since billionaire Elon Musk took over the company last fall, removed the “state-affiliated” labels from the social media platform in April after facing backlash for labeling NPR as “state-affiliated” and later “government-funded” media.

NPR opted to leave the platform in protest and was quickly followed by PBS and Canada’s public broadcaster CBC, which were similarly labeled as “government-funded” media.

Musk ultimately decided to remove the labels from X altogether, and PBS and CBC have since returned to the platform. NPR has not posted on X since April.

With the elimination of the “state-affiliated” labels, state-run media accounts are no longer prominently identified as such and no longer face restrictions in the algorithm, according to NewsGuard. 

X previously did not amplify accounts marked as “state-affiliated.”

Musk’s decision to replace the platform’s verified checkmark system with a paid subscription service has also allowed for the amplification of the state-run media accounts on X, the report noted. 

Nine of the 12 accounts examined by NewsGuard had a checkmark through X’s subscription service, which provides its users with “prioritized rankings in conversations” and the ability to appear in “For You” feeds, according to the report.

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