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Twitter will ban all political ads, says CEO Jack Dorsey


SAN FRANCISCO – Twitter said Wednesday that it would ban all political ads to shed light on the power and veracity of online advertising and to put pressure on Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg to change his stance.

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, said political ads, including rigged videos and the viral distribution of misleading information, challenged bourgeois discourse, “all at an increasing pace, sophistication and overwhelming proportions.” He said he feared the ads would have “significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared for”.

He added that he believed the reach of political messages should be “earned, not bought”.

His move leads to a principled conflict with Facebook and Mr. Zuckerberg, who said this month that he would allow politicians to publish all claims – even false ones – in advertisements on the social network. Mr Zuckerberg argued that Facebook was founded to give people a voice and said his company stood for freedom of expression. The politicians’ ads are newsworthy.

Facebook has been attacked by Democrats for this stance, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s campaign. In the past two weeks, hundreds of Facebook employees also signed a letter to Mr. Zuckerberg asking him to stop treating the company rethink political advertising.

But Twitter’s announcement that it would stop political advertising from November 22nd sparked immediate attacks from the right. Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager for the 2020 election, said Twitter’s decision was a partisan act designed to silence conservatives.

Mr Parscale said in a statement that the move was “a very stupid decision” for Twitter shareholders, and he wondered if Twitter would also stop running advertisements from “biased liberal media” targeting Republicans.

Democrats disagreed. New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez praised Twitter, saying, “If a company can’t or won’t do basic fact-checking on paid political advertising, it shouldn’t run paid political ads at all.” Montana Governor Steve Bullock, who is running for president , tweeted: “Good. It’s your turn, Facebook. “

Bill Russo, a spokesperson for Mr Biden’s campaign, said it was “unfortunate” to suggest that the only way to deal with false claims in political ads is not to run the ads at all, but he added that it is encouraging, “for” once, the income has not prevailed. “

Two weeks ago, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren called on Mr. Zuckerberg for running a “disinformation machine for profit.”

She and all of the other leading Democratic presidential candidates have advertised on Twitter, as has President Trump’s re-election campaign, according to the company’s political ads database. However, Twitter ads are only a small fraction of what the presidential candidates total spent on digital advertising, with more money going into Facebook and Google ads.

Online political advertising has been in the spotlight since the 2016 presidential election, when Trump was more successful than the Democrats with viral political advertising. How social networks can spread and reinforce misinformation and false content was also scrutinized after Russians used Facebook, YouTube and Twitter in 2016 to spread divisive messages to influence the American electorate. This has since sparked debate about what ads and other content companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google should allow on their websites.

Mr Zuckerberg, 35, was preparing to speak about Facebook’s latest quarterly financial performance on Wednesday when Mr Dorsey announced that Twitter would no longer run political ads. In a call to Wall Street analysts shortly thereafter, Mr. Zuckerberg made no mention of Twitter but said he wanted to “focus on talking about principles”.

“Because from a business perspective, it might be easier for us to take a different path than the one we’re taking,” he said.

Mr Zuckerberg reaffirmed the importance of freedom of expression and did not withdraw it. He said he plans to continue running political ads on Facebook and that the decision was not based on greed, as such ads are expected to represent 0.5 percent of Facebook sales in 2020.

“I understand that some people disagree with our decisions,” he said. “But I don’t think anyone can say that we are not doing what we believe or that we have not thought about these issues carefully.”

Mr. Dorsey, 42, also didn’t mention Mr. Zuckerberg by name on Wednesday when he announced Twitter’s new stance on political ads. However, he demonstratively and consistently took a position opposite to the Facebook boss and differentiated between freedom of speech and paid speech.

In a veiled dig, Mr Dorsey said the fight against online disinformation would be hampered if tech companies accepted payments for misleading political content. He said in the tweet that it wasn’t credible for tech companies to say they worked hard against misinformation, “but if someone pays us to target people and force them to see their political ad … well … they can say , what you want!”

Twitter had long allowed political advertising, although it recently took steps to restrict it. Following the US presidential election in 2016, Twitter asked advertisers to verify their identities and released a database of political ads that ran on its service.

More recently, it banned advertisements from state-sponsored media after tracing misinformation about the protests in the semi-autonomous Chinese city of Hong Kong to state-sponsored media in China.

Twitter said the ban wouldn’t greatly affect the advertising business, which the company mainly makes money from. Twitter’s chief financial officer Ned Segal said political advertising spending on the 2018 midterm elections was less than $ 3 million. The company’s annual sales are approximately $ 3 billion.

The ban on political advertising does not remove the toxicity that Twitter is exposed to with political statements on its platform. The service, where politicians like Mr Trump freely post messages, has said it will be lenient to world leaders who appear to violate its guidelines on violent language on the site because it believes the preservation of these tweets serves the public interest.

Twitter will have to face other challenges to figure out which ads are considered political. In addition to ads that are sponsored by political campaigns, Twitter also wants to ban ads that address political issues such as climate change. Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s director of law, politics, trust and security, said in a tweet that Twitter defines political ads as those “advocating for or against legal issues of national concern,” including immigration and health care.

Google, which did not immediately comment, has largely avoided reviewing political ads, although – like Facebook – it continued to run a controversial ad from the Trump campaign that made false claims about Mr Biden.

Google requires that someone who wants to buy a political ad must prove their eligibility to do so in the United States. Once the ads are ready to run, a Google team will review the ad for policy violations, including misrepresentations or dishonest claims. An ad can be reviewed again if users report it as problematic.

Of the last 100 ads bought by the Trump campaign on Google since July, seven have been removed for violating the guidelines. Google did not want to indicate which guidelines were violated.

Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, said Twitter’s ban on political advertising reflected a return to the early goals of social media platforms.

“Social media platforms were seen as a great balance of how people consume information and how they connect with each other,” he said. “The concept of paid engagement or unequal engagement does not make this vision a reality.”


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