Twitter has announced that it will ban and remove all political ads on its platform, in what is becoming an increasingly hot potato issue. Twitter’s great social media rival Facebook has been hugely criticized for political content on its platform, and will now come under pressure to follow suit.
UK general election
Announced via CEO Jack Dorsey’s Twitter account on Wednesday, Twitter will implement the new policy from November 22, and it will apply globally to all ads related to electioneering and political issues. The first major political events that this will impact on is the forthcoming UK general election, set to take place in December.
Dorsey posted a lengthy Twitter thread in order to explain why the company has taken this decision, and referenced several arguments that Facebook has put forward in recent weeks. In particular, Dorsey was keen to emphasize that the spread of political messages should never be compromised by money.
The Twitter CEO was also keen to put political advertising into a technological context, indicating that AI technologies such as the “machine learning-based optimization of messaging and micro-targeting” can be manipulative of public opinion.
Dorsey also particularly mentioned so-called ‘deepfakes‘; manipulated or illegitimate videos that appear to contain real footage, and suggested that an increasingly polluted environment exists on social media platforms. These two issues “present entirely new challenges to civic discourse”, according to Dorsey.
Free speech issue
Responding to comments that political advertising represents an exercise of free speech, Dorsey commented that “this isn’t about free expression”. This will inevitably be seen as a direct response to comments made by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg regarding political advertising, in a recent speech.
Dorsey instead suggested that Twitter would lose all credibility if the platform enabled people to pay for political advertising, and then allowed them to say whatever they want, without any form of censure or regulation.
The decision of Twitter will put huge pressure on Facebook, with the company’s previous stance having been to robustly defend its position on political advertising. Facebook will now surely face calls to similarly ban political advertising, after Twitter’s move.
However, this would be a much bigger deal for Facebook, with figures indicating that revenue raised from political advertising on the platform is around 2,000% more than Twitter. More cynical observers may indeed suggest that Twitter has made this decision as a shrewd commercial move, figuring that it will make it little impact on its revenue, while putting pressure on a huge segment of revenue for its rival Facebook.
Concluding his comments, Dorsey called for “forward-looking political ad regulation”, and suggested that transparency requirements associated with political advertising haven’t been sufficient. “The internet provides entirely new capabilities, and regulators need to think past the present day to ensure a level playing field,” according to Dorsey.
Possibly the biggest controversy related to political advertising has been accusations that the Trump Administration colluded with Russia in order to run Facebook advertising campaigns that spread false information.