FILE - In this Sept. 5, 2018, file photo Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in Washington. “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,” Dorsey said Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, in a series of tweets announcing Twitters new policy of banning all political advertising from its service. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

Twitter pulls back on political ads due to ‘significant risks’ of bought influence

Security and privacy researchers and some Democratic politicians hailed Twitter’s decision

Twitter announced an end Wednesday to political campaign and issue ads on its service, calling it an important step in reducing the flow of election-related misinformation.

But some of its users might face an unintended consequence or two.

Among those potentially affected could be public-interest nonprofits eager to reach an audience larger than their official followers, challengers to incumbent officeholders, and — obviously — political consultants who make a living placing ad buys for their candidates.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said in a series of tweets that paid political messages in the targeted environment that social media enables can be fraught.

“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,” he wrote.

Security and privacy researchers and some Democratic politicians hailed Twitter’s decision as an important way to prevent campaigns from feeding streams of misinformation to targeted voters. The move drew a sharp contrast between Twitter and its much larger rival Facebook, which has come under fire in recent months for its policy of not fact-checking political ads.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shot back quickly, using an earnings conference call Wednesday afternoon to offer an impassioned defence of what he called his company’s deep belief “that political speech is important.”

“This is complex stuff. Anyone who says the answer is simple hasn’t thought about the nuances and downstream challenges,” Zuckerberg said. “I don’t think anyone can say that we are not doing what we believe or we haven’t thought hard about these issues.”

Google did not have an immediate comment on Twitter’s policy change.

Trump’s campaign manager called Twitter’s change a “very dumb decision” in a statement Wednesday.

“This is yet another attempt to silence conservatives, since Twitter knows President Trump has the most sophisticated online program ever,” campaign manager Brad Parscale said.

Political advertising makes up a small sliver of Twitter’s overall revenue. The company does not break out specific figures each quarter, but said political ad spending for the 2018 midterm election was less than $3 million. It reported $824 million in third-quarter revenue.

Candidates spend significantly more purchasing ads on Facebook than on Twitter, company records show.

The issue rose to the forefront earlier this fall when Twitter, along with Facebook and Google, refused to remove a misleading video ad from President Donald Trump’s campaign that targeted Biden.

In response, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, another presidential hopeful, ran her own ad on Facebook taking aim at Zuckerberg. The ad falsely claimed that Zuckerberg endorsed President Donald Trump for re-election, acknowledging the deliberate falsehood as necessary to make a point.

Dorsey said the company is recognizing that advertising on social media offers an unfair level of targeting compared to other mediums. It is not about free expression, he asserted.

“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,” he tweeted. “It’s worth stepping back in order to address.”

Zuckerberg said he has also considered banning political ads, but remains wary of the move’s impact. “It’s hard to define where to draw the line,” he said. “Would we really block ads for important political issues like climate change or women’s empowerment?”

A ban on such “issue ads” could limit the ability of such groups to reach wider audiences or disadvantage them in other ways. Ryan Schleeter, a spokesman for the environmental group Greenpeace, said a lot will depend on how Twitter defines “political.”

What the group doesn’t want to see, Schleeter said, is major oil companies running “misleading, greenwashing advertising unchallenged” while “those who confront corporate power are censored.”

Political challengers will also find likely find themselves at a disadvantage, since they don’t generally have the name recognition or money that their opponents do, said Matt Shupe, a Republican political strategist.

“If you’re a challenger, advertising allows you to make up that difference,” he said. “It’s very hard to organically grow an audience for a state assemblyman campaign.”

Shupe, whose public relations firm has won awards for its use of ads on Facebook, called Twitter’s decision “incredibly dumb.”

Twitter said it will make some exceptions, such as allowing ads that encourage voter registration. It will describe those in a detailed policy it plans to release on Nov. 15, and the policy will take effect Nov. 22.

Twitter will still allow politicians to freely tweet their thoughts and opinions, which can then be shared and spread. Trump’s Twitter feed in particular is known for often bombastic and controversial tweets that are shared widely.

Federal campaigns are expected to account for the majority of advertising dollars on broadcast and cable channels during the 2020 election, according to advertising research firm Kantar. They will also be responsible for roughly 20% of the total $6 billion in spending on digital ads.

ALSO READ: Pamela Anderson asks Trudeau to serve inmates vegan meals to save cash

___

AP reporters David Klepper in Providence, Rhode Island, Amanda Seitz in Chicago, Will Weissert in Washington, Mae Anderson in Atlanta and Tali Arbel in New York contributed to this article.

Rachel Lerman And Barbara Ortutay, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

County of Paintearth releases summary of initial round of community engagement sessions

‘Various aspects of the existing Land-Use Bylaw and Municipal Development Plan were reviewed during the sessions’

County of Paintearth council hosts virtual delegation from RMA during June 2nd meeting

The RMA also usually hosts two conferences for municipalities in a given year

Alberta reports just seven new COVID-19 cases

‘Today’s numbers mark an occasion to be celebrated’

Still no confirmed active COVID-19 cases in Red Deer, central zone

There are 15 new confirmed cases were in Alberta, the province said Thursday

Town council moves to re-open community playgrounds

Highlights from the Town council meeting of May 25th

PODCAST: Black Lives Matter in central Alberta

Community organizers come on the show to discuss central Albertan anti-racist movement

Montreal man believes rough arrest caught on video was racially motivated

Montreal man believes rough arrest caught on video was racially motivated

N.B. police shooting of Indigenous woman leads to questions on ‘wellness checks’

N.B. police shooting of Indigenous woman leads to questions on ‘wellness checks’

Minister says reckoning on police violence against Indigenous people needed

Minister says reckoning on police violence against Indigenous people needed

Nunavut to bring in civilian police review after arrest video: minister

Nunavut to bring in civilian police review after arrest video: minister

Trudeau takes a knee at anti-racism protest on Parliament Hill

Trudeau takes a knee at anti-racism protest on Parliament Hill

Liberal MP Marwan Tabbara faces assault, break and enter, harassment charges

Liberal MP Marwan Tabbara faces assault, break and enter, harassment charges

Black Canadians say racism here is just as harmful as in the United States

Black Canadians say racism here is just as harmful as in the United States

Implementation of Divorce Act reforms delayed eight months by pandemic

Implementation of Divorce Act reforms delayed eight months by pandemic

Most Read