News | Published October 31 2019

Twitter to ban political advertising on its worldwide platform

Social media platform Twitter has announced a worldwide ban on political advertising, with its CEO Jack Dorsey saying that its outreach for such messages is a right to be “earned, not bought”.

In a thread of tweets, Dorsey said: "While internet advertising is incredibly powerful and very effective for commercial advertisers, that power brings significant risks to politics.”

The full details concerning restricted content will be disclosed by November 15, with the ban coming into force on November 22. Advertisements encouraging voters to register ahead of elections will not be impacted.

Dorsey justified Twitter’s stance by saying that political advertising online represents a “new challenge to civic discourse.”

He added that these challenges include "machine learning-based optimisation of messaging", "micro-targeting, unchecked misleading information, and deep fakes”.

Dorsey also said it was quite “easy” for people “to target and force people to see their political ad”, with the people running the advert essentially able to “say whatever they want” in their political messages.

He wrote: “It’s not credible for us to say: ‘We’re working hard to to stop people from gaming our systems to spread misleading info’.”

The news comes after its social media rival, Facebook, had opted against implementing a ban of its own on political advertising, with its founder Mark Zuckerberg forced to defend its stance.

Speaking to journalists, Zuckerberg said: “In a democracy, I don't think it's right for private companies to censor politicians or the news”.

Zuckerberg also addressed students in US capital Washington DC to justify Facebook's policy on not prohibiting existing political advertisements which are known to contain inaccurate or false information.

He argued that Facebook should “err on the side of greater expression”, adding that a ban would favour incumbent politicians and those who received greater media coverage in their campaign.

Notably, Facebook’s scope is far superior to that of its counterpart, with 1.63 billion daily active users using Facebook in September, compared to 126 million active on Twitter during that time.

Dorsey defended Twitter’s new policy against the idea that it favours incumbent leaders, saying that it is possible for social movements to achieve prominence “without any political advertising" online.

Reaction in the US political arena to Twitter’s new policy ahead of the 2020 presidential election has been mixed. 

Brad Parscale, overseeing the re-election campaign for incumbent US president, Donald Trump, labelled the ban an "attempt by the left to silence Trump and conservatives".

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic leadership candidate in the 2016 election, was supportive of the move and pressed Facebook to reconsider its policy.

Clinton tweeted: “This is the right thing to do for democracy in America and all over the world. What say you, Facebook?”.

Clinton’s fellow Democrat, Bill Russo, echoed her comments, saying: “When faced with a choice between ad dollars and the integrity of our democracy, it is encouraging that, for once, revenue did not win out.”

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Authored by

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
October 31 2019

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