The Brief: Twitter announced its plan to ban political advertising starting mid-November to avoid playing a role in "significant ramifications that today's democratic infrastructure" may not be prepared to handle.
On Wednesday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that the company had decided to stop all political advertising. In a Twitter thread, Dorsey stated “We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought,” explaining that while advertising is “powerful” and important for commercial purposes, “that power brings significant risks to politics, where it can be used to influence votes to affect the lives of millions.”
We’ve made the decision to stop all political advertising on Twitter globally. We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought. Why? A few reasons…🧵
— jack 🌍🌏🌎 (@jack) October 30, 2019
Dorsey cited challenges with machine learning, misinformation, and deepfakes as some of the issues that civic discourse face in the age of social media. He elaborated that by banning political advertisements, Twitter would have more room to address these issues at other levels. called for “more forward-looking political ad regulation” including but not limited to ad transparency
Twitter’s final policy will be shared on November 15 and enforcement will begin on the 22nd. The ban will have some exceptions including ads for voter registration.
Jack Dorsey ended this thread with “A final note. 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.”
Twitter’s announcement comes as Facebook has been under fire for its political ad policies including its policy that allows politicians to lie in ads. According to a report in the New York Times, 250 Facebook employees signed a letter asking Facebook’s leaders to reconsider their decision to let politicians post any claims, including false ones, in ads on the site.
While Jack Dorsey’s announcement is significant on its own, it is not unrelated to recent Facebook controversies. While Facebook has defended its policy not to fact check political ads, in order to provide a “level playing field” for politicians without interfering with their speech, Twitter’s move to ban ads takes a different stance. In one tweet, Dorsey indirectly referenced Facebook’s most contentious policy, writing: “For instance, it‘s not credible for us to say: ‘We’re working hard to stop people from gaming our systems to spread misleading info, buuut if someone pays us to target and force people to see their political ad…well…they can say whatever they want! 😉’”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg doubled down on Facebook’s current policies the day after Twitter announced these changes, citing “transparency” around political advertising as a better alternative to banning ads.