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Going Its Own Way: Twitter Bans Political Ads from Its Service


FILE - This April 26, 2017, photo shows the Twitter icon on a mobile phone in Philadelphia.

In a major break from other internet companies, Twitter said on Wednesday it would no longer accept political ads, a decision that will affect users and political campaigns in the U.S. and around the world.

In a series of 11 tweets, Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, said that while internet advertising is powerful and effective for advertisers, “that power brings significant risks to politics.”

“We’ve made the decision to stop all political advertising on Twitter globally,” Dorsey said. “We believe political message reach should be earned not bought.”

The ban, which will go into effect Nov. 22, will cover candidate ads as well as ads for political issues. Advertisements that encourage people to vote will remain.

Technology and elections

Twitter’s decision comes as internet firms have struggled with internet-fueled disinformation campaigns both in the U.S. and around the world.

Earlier on Wednesday, Facebook said it removed three Russia-backed disinformation campaigns in Africa that they were part of legitimate local organizations.

Since the birth of social media, tech savvy political candidates have gained an edge by using internet services – including buying ads on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter- to augment traditional media and talk directly to their supporters.

But since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, mixing technology and electoral politics has come under increasing scrutiny. Echoed in Dorsey’s tweets is a darker view that technology’s success at helping candidates target and reach masses can create its own problems.

“A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet,” Dorsey wrote. “Paying for reach removes that decision, forcing highly optimized and targeted political messages on people. We believe this decision should not be compromised by money.”

Fighting against, profiting from misinformation

Twitter’s decision will likely have little effect on the firm’s bottom line – less than $3 million was spent on political advertising on the service in the U.S. mid-term election, the firm’s chief financial officer tweeted. Still, it appears to end a struggle between the advertising business and Twitter’s fight against misinformation.

“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!'"

That comment is in stark contrast to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s ongoing defense of his firm’s decision not to factcheck political ads.

Zuckerberg told investors on Wednesday that he stands by that decision, adding that "ads can be an important part of voice -- especially for candidates and advocacy groups the media might not otherwise cover so they can get their message into debates.”

Twitter’s across-the-board ban on political ads earned the praise of one Silicon Valley executive.

“I think this is the right call by Jack Dorsey and by Twitter,” said Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, chief marketing officer at Mozilla, the parent of the Firefox browser. In 2018, Mozilla stopped advertising across Facebook’s businesses because of Facebook’s data practices.

“Accepting money to run ads that contain falsehoods isn’t the right thing to do for people,”Kaykas-Wolffsaid. “We know that the harm from misinformation is very real in political discourse. ... You either vet the ads or you don’t run them.”

It remains to be seen whether Twitter’s decision will influence other internet firms and how it will be received by people seeking office, who have now lost one way to reach voters.