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Twitter to ban all political advertising; Facebook urged to follow suit

Image credit: Dreamtime

Twitter has announced it is banning all political advertising from its service, saying social media companies give advertisers an unfair advantage in proliferating highly targeted, misleading messages.

In a series of tweets announcing the new worldwide policy, Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey said: “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 also argued that the promotion of political messages should not be “compromised by money” where there could be a risk of spreading misleading information in a highly targeted way. In a series of tweets, he wrote: “Political message reach should be earned, not bought.”

Twitter currently only allows certified campaigns and organisations to run political ads for candidates and issues. The latter tend to advocate on broader issues such as climate change, abortion rights and immigration.

The company said it will make some exceptions, such as allowing ads that encourage voter turnout. It will describe those in a detailed policy it plans to release on 15 November. Twitter’s new policy will come into force from 22 November 2019.

However, not everyone is on board with the new policy, with US President Donald Trump’s campaign manager calling the change a “very dumb decision”.

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

The presidential campaign for leading Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said it was “unfortunate” that companies would think the only option was to completely ban political ads.

Bill Russo, the deputy communications director for Biden’s campaign said in a statement: “When faced with a choice between ad dollars and the integrity of our democracy, it is encouraging that, for once, revenue did not win out.”

Meanwhile, Facebook has been urged to follow in the footsteps of Twitter by also banning political advertising from its platform. Reacting to the announcement made by Dorsey, MPs in the UK have called on Facebook to copy Twitter’s move.

Twitter's change in policy was praised by Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Wollaston, who tweeted: “Now let's hope @facebook stops the big money, targeted attack ads too that distort our democracy & fuel hate.”

Labour’s David Lammy, the SNP’s Angus MacNeil and former home secretary Amber Rudd also reacted to the announcement on Twitter, with Rudd stating: “This is good news for getting a fair general election.”

While calling on Facebook to mirror the change, Labour MP Toby Perkins took aim at Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s advisor Dominic Cummings.

He tweeted: “If Facebook did the same, Dominic Cummings entire strategy for #GeneralElection2019 would be in tatters.”

Back in the US, Facebook, along with many other social media companies, have come under scrutiny as the country heads towards its presidential election next year, with Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg obliged to defend politicians' rights to free speech on the site.

The company was criticised earlier this month after it revealed it did not fact-check ads by politicians or their campaigns.

During an earnings call, Zuckerberg said: “In a democracy, I don’t think it’s right for private companies to censor politicians or the news. And although I've considered whether we should not carry these ads in the past, and I'll continue to do so, on balance so far I've thought we should continue.

“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.”

He said a Facebook political ads archive allows people to scrutinise the data behind them and estimated that the sites political ads will be less than 0.5 per cent of its revenue next year.

He added: “The reality is that we believe deeply that political speech is important and should be able to be heard and that's what's driving us.”

Earlier this month, Facebook announced changes to the way political advertisements are displayed on its platform in the lead up to the 2020 US election. However, it prompted a parliamentary select committee to question its communications VP Sir Nick Clegg on how these could impact the forthcoming general election in the UK.

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