Distinguishing itself from Facebook, Twitter announces it will ban political ads

The announcement appears counterposed to Facebook's piecemeal policy to let politicians spread misinformation

By Nicole Karlis

Senior Writer

Published October 30, 2019 7:41PM (EDT)

Jack Dorsey (AP/Mary Altaffer/Richard Drew)
Jack Dorsey (AP/Mary Altaffer/Richard Drew)

On Wednesday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that the social media company will ban political ads on its platform. The stance is the complete opposite of Facebook, which not only allows ads from politicians, but also refuse to remove ads in which politicians blatantly lie.

Dorsey made the announcement in a long-winded series of tweets, explaining that he believes political messages “should be earned, not bought.”

“A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet,” Dorsey said. ”Paying for reach removes that decision, forcing highly optimized and targeted political messages on people.”

Dorsey added: “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.”

The move is surprising considering Dorsey has long been a proponent of free speech on his platform. Previously, Dorsey received much criticism for not suspending Alex Jones’ account after Jones spread conspiracies about the Sandy Hook shooting being a false flag operation. Dorsey previously said that even though Twitter accounts like Jones ’ spread unsubstantiated lies, it is up to journalists and the public to refute claims and form opinions of their down. (Eventually, Twitter bowed to pressure and suspended Jones.)

Yet like Facebook, Twitter has been inconsistent with how they sanction speech on their private platforms. Twitter, Dorsey emphasized, is not “about free expression.”

“This is about paying for reach,” Dorsey tweeted. “And paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle.”

This is a stark contrast to Facebook’s decision to allow political ads, and refuse to fact check the ads.

“We don’t believe, however, that 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,”  Nick Clegg, Facebook’s Vice President of Global Affairs and Communications, previously explained in a company blog post.

Twitter’s announcement has landed positively with many progressive organizations.

“We respect Twitter's decision to take a pause from running political advertising, recognizing that such ads on social media can have powerful distorting effects on public discourse,”  PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a media statement. “We cannot risk a repeat of the 2016 election where the scourge of misinformation raised serious questions about whether the democratic process could be trusted.”

Nossel added: “Still, we recognize that there are many unanswered questions and that this policy may have some unintended consequences, including, for example, advancing incumbents who rely less on ads. While we reserve judgement on how it may play out, we commend the effort to protect democratic deliberations and emphasize the role of ideas, language, and creativity — rather than money — as tools in the battle of ideas.”

On Twitter, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., called the move a “good call.”

“Technology — and social media especially — has a powerful responsibility in preserving the integrity of our elections,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “Not allowing for paid disinformation is one of the most basic, ethical decisions a company can make.”

On Twitter, Dorsey said the “final policy” will be revealed by November 15, and it will include a “few exceptions." The social media platform will enforce said policy on November 22.

By Nicole Karlis

Nicole Karlis is a senior writer at Salon, specializing in health and science. Tweet her @nicolekarlis.

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