By Lauren Rearick
Beginning November 22, you might notice fewer political posts on your Twitter timeline — or, at the very least, fewer political posts people are paying for.
On Wednesday (October 30), Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said via tweet thread that Twitter would no longer accept political advertisements. According to him, the company supports the idea of earning political reach, as opposed to purchasing it.
“A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet,” he 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.”
The change is set to affect political ads from anyone and everyone, not only those from candidates — which means that surrogates or activist groups also run the risk of being impacted. It’s not yet clear on how thorough this line is, or what constitutes a political ad, though Dorsey stipulated that ads encouraging voter registration would still be allowed. MTV News has reached out to Twitter for comment, and Twitter’s complete policy on political ad regulation is scheduled to be released on November 15.
He contended that the decision wasn’t about free speech: “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.” While Dorsey also admitted that such a block could hinder candidates attempting to primary incumbents, he also warned against the increasingly digitized world that some people have weaponized in order to spread disinformation — in particular, “machine learning-based optimization of messaging and micro-targeting, unchecked misleading information, and deep fakes. All at increasing velocity, sophistication, and overwhelming scale.”
“These challenges will affect ALL internet communication, not just political ads,” he warned ominously. The changes to Twitter’s ad system, then, is ostensibly an effort by the company to stem the misinformation problem before it gets worse.
While Dorsey did address the necessity of regulating social media ads in his statement, he also acknowledged that it’s difficult to accomplish. “Ad transparency requirements are progress, but not enough,” he said. “The internet provides entirely new capabilities, and regulators need to think past the present day to ensure a level playing field.”
Twitter’s newly announced policy stands in stark contrast to Facebook’s handling of its political ads — in short, that the company is infamously loose when it comes to the vetting of such posts. President Donald Trump ran an ad containing misinformation about former Vice President Joe Biden, and Senator Elizabeth Warren used Facebook’s own system against it when she ran a campaign with purposefully misleading elements on the platform to prove the point. Additionally, when Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) recently grilled Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on the possibility of using his website to run fake ads, he dodged the question. Initially, he said that he didn’t know whether that was possible, and then he clarified, “I think lying is bad, and I think if you were to run an ad that had a lie in it, that would be bad.”
Just hours after Twitter’s announcement, Zuckerberg told investors during Facebook’s quarterly earnings call that his social media platform will continue to publish political ads, The Hill reported.
“Although I've considered whether we should not carry [political] ads in the past, and I’ll continue to do so, on balance so far I've thought we should continue,” Zuckerberg said. “Ads can be an important part of voice — especially for candidates and advocacy groups the media might not otherwise cover so they can get their message into debates.”
Twitter’s announcement earned praise from some, but others pointed out that the site has a long history in inaction when it comes to hate speech on its platform. Although the social media platform has banned some right-wing conspiracy theorists in the past, The Huffington Post has tracked a continued white nationalist presence on Twitter.
Dorsey has also defended the decision not to deactivate Trump’s Twitter, despite repeated instances in which the President seemingly violated the company’s terms of service.” Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets, would hide important information people should be able to see and debate,” the company wrote in a blog post.