Social media giant Twitter on Wednesday announced a global ban on political advertising on its platform, saying the reach of such messages “should be earned, not bought”. This came days after its rival Facebook ruled out such a ban.
The matter has received attention ahead of next year’s US presidential campaign. Russia is believed to have attempted to manipulate the last presidential election in 2016.
“A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet,” Twitter’s Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey tweeted. “Paying for reach removes that decision, forcing highly optimised and targeted political messages on people. We believe this decision should not be compromised by money.”
He pointed out that while internet advertising was incredibly powerful and effective for commercial advertisers, “that power brings significant risks to politics”, where it can be used to influence votes. “Internet political ads present entirely new challenges to civic discourse: machine learning-based optimisation of messaging and micro-targeting, unchecked misleading information, and deep fakes,” Dorsey said. “All at increasing velocity, sophistication, and overwhelming scale.”
Twitter’s founder said the company thought about stopping only the advertisements for the 2020 presidential candidates. “But issue ads present a way to circumvent,” Dorsey added. “Additionally, it isn’t fair for everyone but candidates to buy ads for issues they want to push. So we are stopping these too.”
The Twitter chief said the matter was not about free expression. “This is about paying for reach,” he claimed. “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.”
Bill Russo, a spokesperson for the campaign to elect Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden, said “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”, BBC reported.
In a statement, US President Donald Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale alleged that Twitter’s decision might end up hurting Republicans more than Democrats.
“Twitter just walked away from hundreds of millions of dollars of potential revenue, a very dumb decision for their stockholders,” Parscale said. “Will Twitter also be stopping ads from biased liberal media outlets who will now run unchecked as they buy obvious political content meant to attack Republicans? This is yet another attempt to silence conservatives, since Twitter knows President Trump has the most sophisticated online program ever known.”
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