By Teodor Teofilov
Twitter will no longer allow political advertisements on its platform, according to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Wednesday. This is a major step as tech companies work to deal with misinformation ahead of the 2020 election.
In a series of tweets, Dorsey laid out the reasoning behind the decision, focusing on the downside of political advertising when combined with digital advertising.
“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,” Dorsey tweeted. “Internet political ads present entirely new challenges to civic discourse: machine learning-based optimization of messaging and micro-targeting, unchecked misleading information, and deep fakes. All at increasing velocity, sophistication, and overwhelming scale.”
The new policy will go into effect Nov. 22 and will be enforced globally. The company plans to publish a new political ads policy outlining the change, which will be posted a week earlier, on Nov. 15.
The decision by Twitter comes as Facebook has publicly defended its policy to not fact-check posts and ads from politicians. The approach allows politicians to publish lies and disinformation on the social network, all the while paying Facebook to spread such messages to voters. A recent example is President Donald Trump’s campaign ad that claims that Democratic front-runner Joe Biden bribed Ukrainian officials.
Multiple Democratic candidates have called on Facebook to revise its policy, but Mark Zuckerberg has said he doesn’t believe that tech companies should decide what is true and what is false. He said the public should be able to decide what information is true or false in political ads and discourse.
“Political ads are an important part of voice — especially for local candidates, up-and-coming challengers, and advocacy groups that may not get much media attention otherwise. Banning political ads favors incumbents and whoever the media covers,” Zuckerberg said in a speech at Georgetown University. “Even if we wanted to ban political ads, it’s not clear where we’d draw the line. There are many more ads about issues than there are directly about elections. Would we ban all ads about healthcare or immigration or women’s empowerment? If we banned candidates’ ads but not these, would that really make sense to give everyone else a voice in political debates except the candidates themselves?”
“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,” Dorsey tweeted.
Tech companies have been forced to make choices about whether political actors should be given more leeway, following the spread of fake news and misinformation after the 2016 election.
The decision Twitter made puts it apart from other companies that have resisted the call to stop taking political ads. Critics of political ads have cited the extremely powerful micro-targeting capabilities of tech platforms, which allow ads to be tailor made for audiences and interest groups. They argue that this is susceptible to abuse, especially in spreading false and misleading claims.
In his thread, Dorsey seemed to directly address Zuckerberg’s speech, including the claim that the decision wasn’t about freedom of expression. Twitter considered just stopping ads from candidates, but realized that ads about political issues created the same problem and as a result they won’t allow paid ads about political issues as well, Dorsey explained.
He said that Twitter wants to focus on “the root problems” that promote misinformation, threaten political discourse, and put elections at risk. He underlined that accepting money from political groups, or groups with a political agenda compromises the company’s credibility and so they chose to put a stop to all political advertising.