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Twitter’s ban on paid political advertising enters into force

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The ban on political advertising

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, recently announced that the site will introduce a worldwide ban on paid political advertising, believing that “political message reach should be earned, not bought.” The new Twitter advertising guideline is to be implemented worldwide from November 22, 2019 and applies to advertising with “political content” and “political topics”.

Dorsey stated in a series of tweets that “while internet advertising is incredibly powerful and very effective for commercial advertisers, that power carries significant political risks,” as political advertising carries the risk that it “can be used to drive votes.” influence to influence life ”. of millions ”. Dorsey also highlighted the growing concern in recent years about misleading information, fake news, and deep fakes to which Twitter is particularly vulnerable, arguing that these threats would be countered by banning all political advertising.

The policy shift comes to a well-coordinated discourse in the global political landscape as the UK general election is in full swing and the 2020 US presidential election is on the horizon.

What does the new directive say?

Under the new Advertising Policy, Twitter prohibits the promotion of “political content,” defined as “content that relates to a candidate, political party, elected or appointed government official, election, referendum, voting measure, piece of legislation, regulation, refer to a guideline or a judicial result ”. . ”Ads that relate to political content, including calls for votes, calls for financial support, and advocacy for or against any type of political content, are prohibited. The ban also includes advertisements from political parties, candidates, elected or appointed government officials, political action committees (PACs), and nonprofit organizations known as 501 (c) (4) s.

However, Twitter will exempt certain news publishers from referring to political content unless they speak out for or against political content and have met certain criteria, such as completing Twitter’s certification process. These publishers are allowed to promote fact-based reporting but cannot, for example, post political support as an advertisement.

The new guideline also cuts out “cause-based” ads from the blanket ban that deal with “political issues” such as the environment, economic growth or social justice, as long as they are not directly used for or against legislative, electoral, regulatory or judicial purposes. These types of ads are still subject to Twitter’s new micro-targeting restrictions and can only be targeted to broad regions or non-political keywords or interests.

Advertisers cannot target their ads to other, more personal traits such as race, gender, or political affiliation and can only run cause-based ads if they are related to an organization’s values ​​or principles, as long as the ad’s “primary objective” is not Influence political, judicial, legislative or regulatory outcomes. These ads may not be served on behalf of anyone or entity who are prohibited from advertising under the policy or who specifically refer to it, and advertisers who wish to serve such ads must also be certified by Twitter.

How is the policy implemented?

It is clear that advertisements from election candidates promoting their political campaigns will be banned under the new directive, but what constitutes fact-based reporting rather than advocacy is a fine line. Furthermore, it remains unclear what falls under the scope of “cause-based.” “Ads on political issues falls. Twitter has political topics like “Abortion, Healthcare, Arms, Climate Change, Immigration, [and] Taxes ”as relevant, but it remains to be seen how Twitter will enforce this policy. Many commentators have argued that this puts Twitter in the privileged position of arbitrator, able to decide what is and is not a “political issue”, which understandably has sparked much debate about censorship and freedom of expression. Similar to the criticism of the Online Harms White Paper, it is difficult to define something so inherently subjective. Whether this role is even appropriate for a social media giant is an entirely different question.

What impact will this have?

Some commentators see Twitter’s policy change as a positive response to the issues highlighted in the Online Harms white paper (among many other sources), showing that a social media giant is taking more responsibility for the content on its platforms, in part to contain policy Disinformation. Others have branded it as a PR stunt claiming its practical impact will be minimal given the relatively low level of political advertising on the site.

Donald Trump’s campaign team claimed the ban was “a very stupid decision for their shareholders” as the company would lose “hundreds of millions of dollars in potential revenue,” although commentators have suggested that the policy’s financial impact is in reality unlikely to be significant to be. The total spend of all UK political parties on political advertising on Twitter was just £ 56,504 in the 2017 election, and across the pond, political advertising from US campaigns accounted for about 0.1% of global Twitter sales.

Twitter’s policy change has also raised questions about whether other social media platforms will follow suit. In response to Twitter’s move, Facebook (which currently allows paid political ads) made it clear that it would not change its corporate policy. It remains to be seen whether other industry giants like Google and YouTube will jump on the bandwagon, or what impact the new Twitter policy will have, but what it has done is paying more attention to the role of digital platforms in political advertising, which as it penetrates is increasingly questioned in the digital age.

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