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Twitter’s policy to ban political advertising is here – and it’s already messy


Twitter’s public honeymoon following the announcement of a political advertising ban is over. The social media company is now faced with the task of actually concretizing its new policy – and dealing with the inevitable protests and unanswered questions.

On Friday, the San Francisco-based company unveiled the first iteration of its new political advertising guidelines on its platform. A little over two weeks ago, amid controversy over Facebook’s policy of allowing politicians to lie in advertisements, CEO Jack Dorsey announced on Twitter that his company would ban political advertising. The announcement received widespread praise, but it also raised many questions about what constitutes a political ad and how Twitter would implement it. Friday is the first time we take a look at the details of what the directive will look like.

Twitter’s new guidance is essentially a broad outline of a policy that has still many details to be worked out and which will inevitably lead to backlash – a fact it doesn’t shy away from.

“This is completely new territory,” said Vijaya Gadde, director of legal, political, and trust and security on Twitter, in a call to reporters on Friday. She acknowledged that Twitter has many specifics to determine, especially at the global level, and that some areas will be subjective. “We are also prepared that we will make some mistakes and we will have to learn and improve these policies over time,” she said.

Twitter won’t enforce its new policy on political ads until November 22nd and plans to provide more information by then. But it’s quick.

Twitter’s first announcement of the ban on political advertising was a benefit to public relations for the company in many ways – political advertising does not constitute a large part of its total revenue (only $ 3 million in 2018 interim financial statements on total revenue of $ 3 billion). Dollars for the company, the year). But given all the public outcry over Facebook’s policy against fact-finding ads by politicians, this was a quick way to overtake a competitor.

Now comes the hard part of the ban. Twitter has not proven extremely effective in fighting abusive behavior and offensive content on its platform in the past, and there are sure to be missteps this time around. It has already changed course in how it will deal with output ads that were originally banned but will now allow – with some restrictions.

What we know about how Twitter will approach political advertising

Twitter believes that political message reach should be earned, not bought, and that advertising should not be used to achieve political or regulatory outcomes.

To that end, it will ban political content starting next week, defining it as “content that relates to a candidate, political party, elected or appointed government official, election, referendum, electoral measure, piece of legislation, ordinance, a Referring to a directive or a judicial outcome. “Ads with political content, such as B. Calls for voting or fundraising, as well as advertisements for and against political content, are excluded. Candidates, political parties, and elected or appointed government officials are not permitted to post ads of any kind, including PACs, Super PACs, and 501 (c) (4) s in the United States.

As soon as politicians are out of office, they can place an advertisement – provided that it is not about political content.

The more complicated part of Twitter’s new policy relates to cause-based advertising. Dorsey said in October the company would ban the display of ads, but it appears to have changed course.

Twitter says it will allow ads with messages on topics like civic engagement, business, the environment, and social justice, but they cannot stand up for or against any particular political, judicial, legislative, or regulatory outcome related to these matters. In principle, advertisers can talk about these topics, but they cannot impose a specific result on them. For example, a group could warn of the dangers of climate change, but probably not encourage the Green New Deal to be passed or refer to a candidate’s homepage.

In this category, there will be limitations on micro-targeting, an important tool that advertisers use to try to reach the very people they believe will be most accessible to their messages. Any group or person trying to run ads for a cause can only be targeted at the state, provincial, or regional level – no zip codes – and must not use any policy keywords and interest targeting such as conservative or liberal. Micro-targeting restrictions will likely make it difficult to deliver ads to highly isolated corners of the platform.

Commercial organizations – for example, ExxonMobil or Walmart – can run purpose-built ads, but they shouldn’t aim to achieve a political outcome, rather they are bound by the organization’s “publicly stated values, principles, and / or” beliefs. “In other words , Exxon can run an ad showing the benefits of fracking, but it cannot run an ad promoting a regulation that would allow fracking anywhere.

Branches that Twitter defines as “news publishers” can place ads as long as they do not propagate political beliefs or stand up for or against a topic. In other words, an ad promoting political support from a media company or an opinion column would be blocked.

There are a lot of holes in there

This is just a first step in what is likely to be a long process for Twitter and a new series of controversies over how Twitter and other social media companies handle content on their platforms.

For one thing, while Twitter doesn’t allow ads that campaign for or against a particular political cause, the policy is much more sticky on ads that contain disinformation. For example, Twitter does not allow a hypothetical ad from Walmart asking people to call their representatives and campaign against a minimum wage of $ 15. But could Walmart run an ad saying a $ 15 minimum wage bankrupt an Iowa city, or just start some softer, but imprecise, topics of conversation on the subject? Maybe.

Del Harvey, vice president of trust and security for Twitter, said on Friday’s press call that she believes one of the defenses against disinformation in ads is the backlash they might generate on the platform. “One of the advantages of Twitter as a primarily public platform is that you can absolutely be called [out] and held accountable for what you say, ”she said.

It seems like Planned Parenthood, a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, would be able to run a Twitter ad talking about the benefits of birth control or sexually transmitted infection testing. And someone could probably advocate for LGBTQ equality as long as it wasn’t tied to a specific bill or legal process. But the line between what is allowed and what is not will be fine – lawyers are often clearly trying to influence public opinion and the law, even if it is not a specific law.

What exact terms are banned in micro-targeting? How will Twitter enforce these guidelines? How will it identify those who inevitably try to trick the system and put in place a system that people can use to report ads they believe are breaking the rules? Will Twitter be transparent about how it makes subjective decisions? These are all things that we don’t quite know yet. Part of this aircraft is being built while it is already in the air.

“We’re moving very fast here because we think the timing is urgent,” said Gadde.

“Twitter will still try to define what is political. Can it be challenged? They, like the rest of the platform companies, have already proven to be really bad at making such decisions, ”Shannon McGregor, a policy communications researcher at the University of Utah, said in an interview with Recode prior to this first round of guidelines has been published .

Twitter also serves as a test case for potential bigger players that have been scrutinized for their advertising policies, including Facebook, which is sure to be watching.


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