Twitter, the platform where a large portion of today’s online political discourse takes place, is banning paid political ads.
Founder and CEO Jack Dorsey today (Oct. 30) explained the company’s decision in a tweet, which will be enforced beginning in November. “A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet,” Dorsey wrote. “Paying for reach removes that decision, forcing highly optimized and targeted political messages on people. We believe this decision should not be compromised by money.”
After backlash following evidence of foreign intervention in the 2016 US presidential election and Brexit, Twitter unveiled a number of policies aimed to prevent future misinformation campaigns from gaining traction on the platform. In May 2018, it began requiring US political campaigns to be certified and prove they weren’t using foreign funds in order to run ads. It even launched an Ad Transparency Center, where the public could view every political campaign ad and additional details like amount of ad spend, targeted demographic, and number of impressions. Earlier this year, it extended its transparent ads policy to Europe, India, and Australia ahead of key elections in those regions. Issue-based campaigns, such as immigration or climate change, also had to register with Twitter.
Political advertising hasn’t been the cash cow for Twitter that it has for Facebook. The company only began tracking political advertising in 2018, and in November 2018, a Bloomberg analysis revealed that Twitter brought in $2.1 million from political campaigns. By comparison, the top eight US presidential election candidates for 2020 have spent more than a combined $42 million on Facebook ads so far this year, according to data from Bullypit Interactive. But Twitter’s decision seems as financial as it is ethical:
How Twitter will determine what specifically counts as political advertising—some tweets may seem less obvious than a candidate paying for their tweets to be seen by a greater audience—still remains to be seen.
The news of Twitter’s ban follows Facebook’s controversial decision earlier this month to not fact-check political ads on its platform. Critics have warned that the ability of political campaigns to easily purchase ads on Facebook to disseminate information, whether factual or not, would essentially result in a repeat of the 2016 election all over again. The social media giant also joins TikTok (and Pinterest) in choosing to ban political ads.
Facebook also hosted its quarterly earnings call today, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg effectively doubled down on the company’s existing stance on political ads. “I’ve considered whether we should not carry these ads in the past, and I’ll continue to do so, on balance so far I’ve thought we should continue,” Zuckerberg said in prepared remarks.