CEO Jack Dorsey is taking a bold stance and banning political ads from Twitter’s platform beginning November 22nd. The announcement came minutes before Facebook posted its quarterly results, highlighting the differences between the two companies on the controversial practice of political advertising in social media.
- On Facebook, an ad claims that Joe Biden gave the Ukrainian attorney general a billion dollars not to investigate his son. It is untrue. How can intentionally false political ads be justified as free speech?
- How can Twitter best determine what is an ad and what is political discourse?
- Why or why not should Facebook, YouTube, and other social media platforms follow Twitter’s lead?
- Dorsey explained in a multi-tweet thread: “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. Political message reach should be earned, not bought.”
- Zuckerberg said on the company’s earnings call, “I don’t think it’s right for private companies to censor political ads or the news. Would we really want to block ads for important political issues like climate change or women’s empowerment?”
- Daniel Kreiss, a professor of political communication at the University of North Carolina, says the problem isn’t ads but the use of custom ad targeting, which incentivizes extremist messages. As a sensible position between two extremes, Kreiss asks, “why not allow paid political ads but get away from hypertargeting?”
Dorsey’s move is a clash of principle with Facebook and Mr. Zuckerberg, who this month said that he would allow politicians to run any claims — even false ones — in ads on the social network. Zuckerberg says Facebook was founded to give people a voice and said his company stands for free expression. Politicians’ ads, he said, were newsworthy.
Hundreds of Facebook employees recently signed a letter to Zuckerberg and other leaders of the social network, condemning the company’s decision to let politicians post any claims they wanted — even false ones — in ads on the site saying it was “a threat” to the company.
Commenting on political advertising, Dorsey wrote: “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!’”
But there is a concern as researchers who have studied Twitter’s handling of such ads in recent years are warning the company may struggle to enforce its new ban. Laura Edelson, a PhD candidate at New York University, said she found instances in the 2018 election where ads from multiple sitting senators were not marked as political ads by Twitter. Edelman said that Twitter performed more poorly in enforcing its disclosure policy than Google in the last elections.