Twitter Bans Political Ads as Facebook Doubles Down
Twitter is taking the opposite approach to Facebook and ending all political advertising on its platform.
"We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought," Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said on Wednesday.
Dorsey made the announcement as the company's rival, Facebook, is embroiled in a controversy for permitting political candidates to run ads free of any fact-checking. Facebook has defended the policy as protecting free speech, but Democratic lawmakers and presidential candidates claim the social network is paving the way for millions of internet users to be exposed to misinformation.
Today, Twitter's CEO decided to weigh in on the controversy by announcing an end to all paid political ads on his own platform, which is also trying to combat online misinformation. One of Dorsey's main problems with political ads is how candidates can essentially pay to extend their message on the internet with no consideration for quality.
While internet advertising is incredibly powerful and very effective for commercial advertisers, that power brings significant risks to politics, where it can be used to influence votes to affect the lives of millions.— jack (@jack) October 30, 2019
"A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet. Paying for reach removes that decision, forcing highly optimized and targeted political messages on people. We believe this decision should not be compromised by money," he said in a Wednesday tweet thread.
Thanks to software algorithms that track user behavior, the political ads on the internet can also be highly targeted, and bombard select users with unchecked information, Dorsey added.
Another reason why Twitter is dropping political ads is it already has it hands full trying to combat existing misinformation, spam and abuse. "Best to focus our efforts on the root problems, without the additional burden and complexity taking money brings," he said.
For instance, it‘s not credible for us to say: “We’re working hard to stop people from gaming our systems to spread misleading info, buuut if someone pays us to target and force people to see their political ad…well...they can say whatever they want!”— jack (@jack) October 30, 2019
Twitter plans on sharing the final policy around no political ads on November 15. Only advertisements encouraging voter registration will be accepted. The company plans to start enforcing the policy on November 22.
"A final note. This isn't about free expression. This is about paying for reach," he added. "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."
Facebook: This is not an appropriate role for us
In a September blog post, Nick Clegg, VP of Global Affairs and Communications, said Facebook does not believe "it's an appropriate role for us to referee political debates and prevent a politician's speech from reaching its audience and being subject to public debate and scrutiny. That's why Facebook exempts politicians from our third-party fact-checking program."
If politicians share previously debunked content, Facebook will "demote that content, display related information from fact-checkers and reject its inclusion in advertisements," Clegg said.
More recently, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended that policy during an appearance at Georgetown University, which apparently did not sit well with some at Facebook. Hundreds of employees this week signed a letter that argued "free speech and paid speech are not the same thing." As the New York Times reports, they pushed the social network to hold political ads to the same standard as other ads, give political ads a stronger visual design treatment, restrict targeting for political ads, observe election silence periods, implement campaign spending caps and develop clearer policies for political ads.
This afternoon, however, Zuckerberg doubled down. "In a democracy, I don't think it's right for private companies to censor politics or the news," he said during an investor call, a transcript of which was later posted on Facebook.
"I believe the better approach is to work to increase transparency," he said, pointing to the company's public database, which catalogs political ads on Facebook, who bought them and how much was spent. That's something "that no TV or print media does."
He also denied that his stance on political ads is about winning points from politicians or making money. "That's wrong. I can assure you, from a business perspective, the controversy this creates far outweighs the very small percent of our business that these political ads make up. We estimate these ads from politicians will be less than 0.5 percent of our revenue next year."
As for Twitter, the company said last week it earned about $3 million from political ads during the 2018 midterm election.