Twitter's ban on political ads is a 'bold statement' and ratchets up the pressure on Facebook amid harsh criticism over its tolerance for lies in political ads
- Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced on Wednesday that the company will no longer allow political advertisements on its platform.
- The change won't cost Twitter very much - the company made less than $3 million on political ads in 2018 - and it saves it a lot of future headaches.
- The move also likely won't significantly impact political campaigns, which spend a small fraction of their political advertising budgets on Twitter, as compared with Facebook and Google.
- Twitter's decision comes as Facebook faces widespread criticism over its newly-confirmed policy of not fact-checking, suppressing, or removing political ads that promote falsehoods.
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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced on Wednesday that the company will no longer allow political advertisements on its platform.
"We've made the decision to stop all political advertising on Twitter globally. We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought. Why? A few reasons," Dorsey tweeted. "This isn't about free expression. This is about paying for reach. And paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today's democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle. It's worth stepping back in order to address."
Experts say the policy change is both a smart move on Twitter's part. The change won't cost Twitter very much - the company made less than $3 million on political ads in 2018 - and it saves them a lot of future trouble.
"Twitter was struggling to consistently identify political and issue advocacy content - they hadn't invested in the infrastructure," Emily Williams, the vice president for digital communications at the Democratic consulting firm Global Strategy Group, told Insider. "It probably costs them ultimately less to just shut down this piece of the business ... this is frankly more of a statement of where Twitter has the resources to invest and probably a business calculation that this isn't worth it for them."
A final note. This isnâ€™t about free expression. This is about paying for reach. And paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that todayâ€™s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle. Itâ€™s worth stepping back in order to address. — jack ?????? (@jack) October 30, 2019
But the policy change may well have a more significant impact on groups conducting issue advocacy campaigns, advertising for which will now be banned on Twitter.
"I think in the end this unjustified hysteria about Russian interference caused Twitter to conclude that allowing political ads was more trouble than it was worth," Matt Mackowiak, a GOP strategist and president of the Potomac Strategy Group, told Insider.
But, he added, ultimately, "Nobody uses Twitter for ad buying. I'd rather sending advertising messages by carrier pigeon."
Some progressive lawmakers quickly praised Twitter's move, while President Donald Trump's campaign condemned it as "yet another attempt to silence conservatives."
"This is a good call. Technology - and social media especially - has a powerful responsibility in preserving the integrity of our elections," tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat. "Not allowing for paid disinformation is one of the most basic, ethical decisions a company can make."
Williams said Twitter's decision makes a "bold statement," but that it ultimately doesn't impact the organic spread of misinformation, which is perhaps more detrimental than disinformation in advertisements. Some progressives believe Twitter should play a more active role in limiting the speech of users, including the president, who make threats or otherwise endanger others.
"[Twitter] will be and should be continued to criticized for letting Donald Trump tweet whatever he wants," she said. "It still favors, in a lot of ways, Trump and down-ballot incumbents in the candidate space who already have the following and the reach ... This is certainly not a move that levels the playing field."
Mounting pressure on Facebook
Dorsey's Wednesday evening announcement took a veiled shot at Facebook, which is facing widespread criticism, particularly from the left, over its newly-confirmed policy of not fact-checking, suppressing, or removing political ads that promote falsehoods.
Aside from content that calls "for violence or could risk imminent physical harm or voter or census suppression," Facebook is allowing politicians to say anything they want to in their ads.
Ocasio-Cortez made headlines when she slammed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over the policy in a hearing last week, warning it would exacerbate voter suppression and other anti-democratic phenomena.
In another shot at Facebook, the Bronx lawmaker on Wednesday called for all social media companies that do "not wish to run basic fact-checking on paid political advertising" to ban political ads.This week, more than 250 Facebook employees wrote a letter to Zuckerberg demanding the company change course on the policy. While less than 0.5 percent of Facebook's revenue will come from political ads, the company has invested significantly more than Twitter has in policing political content on its platform.
But other progressives say other social media companies don't need to follow Twitter's lead.
"I do think there are policies other than ban all ads and allow all lies that could work," Judd Legum, the co-founder of the now-shuttered progressive news site ThinkProgress who regularly covers Facebook, told Insider.
Many Republicans - a good amount of whom have accused social media companies of censoring their speech - have praised Facebook's ad policy. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, called the policy "a heartwarming reminder that free expression is the best business model in the world."
Williams said the move won't change much for Facebook, but it will be telling to see how it - and other tech companies, most notably Google - respond to Twitter's move. Mackowiak said it will likely add to the already intense pressure on the social media giant.
"They will now be the sole focus of Capitol Hill," Mackowiak said of Facebook.
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