Twitter has begun to label pro-government media accounts in Serbia as “state-affiliated” media.
Those labelled as state-affiliated include the dailies Politika, Informer, Srpski Telegraf, Kurir, as well as three free-to-air channels like Prva TV and B92, Happy, RTV Pink’s online portal, and the news agency Tanjug.
Serbia’s public broadcaster, Radio Television of Serbia (RTS) and Radio Television of Vojvodina (RTV) are among those also labelled as state-affiliated.
The state-affiliated label appears on each of the channels’ Twitter profile page, and on Tweets sent by and shared via these accounts. These labels contain information about the country each account is linked to, and whether the channel is run by a government representative or is a state-affiliated media entity.
In detail, the labels include a small icon of a flag to mark government accounts, and a podium to signal an account as state-affiliated media. In the case of the latter, Twitter will not recommend accounts or their Tweets with these labels to users on the platform.
Twitter’s rules and regulations define state-affiliated media as “outlets where the state exercises control over editorial content through financial resources, direct or indirect political pressures, and/or control over production and distribution.”
“Accounts belonging to state-affiliated media entities, their editors-in-chief, and/or their senior staff may be labeled,” the regulations stipulate.
At present, Twitter has applied the state-affiliated label to accounts from a limited list of countries, including China, the US, Cuba, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Serbia. The platform plans to expand this country list in the future.
Serbia’s media accounts in question are yet to react publicly to the new standard.
Although these channels are already widely viewed as pro-government thanks to their positive reporting of the ruling Progressive Party and harsh criticism of the opposition, it is unclear what steps Twitter took to assess whether or not they fit the “state affiliated” criteria.
Twitter’s rules and regulations explain that the platform distinguishes between state-affiliated broadcasters and those that are funded by, but work more independently from, the government.
“State-financed media organisations 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,” Twitter said.
In 2020, Twitter deleted almost 9,000 accounts that were “working to promote” Serbia’s Progressive Party and its President Aleksandar Vučić, in violation of the platform’s policy on manipulation and spam.
“Toward the end of last year, we identified clusters of accounts engaged in inauthentic coordinated activity which led to the removal of 8,558 accounts working to promote Serbia’s ruling party and its leader,” Twitter announced.
According to the statement, Twitter had updated its archive of “state-backed information operations,” identifying accounts linked to Egypt, Honduras, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and Serbia.
Serbia was the top offending country by far with 8,558 accounts removed. The platform removed 5,350 fake accounts linked to Saudi Arabia, 3,104 linked to Honduras, 2,541 linked to Egypt and 795 linked to Indonesia.
Serbian media has often reported that online activists of the Serbian Progressive Party, or “bots”, are very active across social networks.