Twitter has announced to ban political ads on the platform ahead of the 2020 US Presidential elections on Wednesday. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has tweeted that the decision would be implemented globally; effective from November 22, 2019. He further added that the political message reach should be earned, not bought.
He further emphasized, “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.”
Mixed Reaction from the Political Class
The mini-blogging social media platform has received appreciation from the Democrats but scorn from Republican’s presidential campaign. Democrats have applauded the social media platform for prioritising the integrity of democracy over revenues.
On the other hand, republican representatives have described Twitter’s decision as an attempt to silence conservatives and a very dumb decision for the company’s shareholders.
The company’s shares also fell by 1.9 percent in the after-hours trading post announcement. But, analysts have predicted that the ban won’t have any significant impact on its business.
Growing Pressure on the Social-media companies
Social media giants such as Facebook are also facing increasing pressure to either ban or regulate political advertisements. Political ads spreading false information which can potentially impact elections are also becoming a major cause of concern. With their increasing outreach, associated risks, and need to hold them accountable has also increased.
Take of Major Social Media platforms on Political Advertisements
Facebook had come under scrutiny after Russian propaganda on the platform was reported to have affected the poll outcomes of the U.S. presidential elections in 2016. It had pledged efforts to deal with misinformation but has decided to not fact-check ads run by politicians.
The company has drawn sharp criticism from Democratic candidates who are in the running of the 2020 presidential election including former Vice President Joe Biden. But, earlier this month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had defended his company by saying it did not want to suppress political speech.
However, Dorsey, his counterpart at Twitter has asserted in his Twitter thread that it isn’t about free expression but about paying for reach.
He added, “Paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle. It’s worth stepping back in order to address.”
Twitter CEO has noted in his tweet that the platform will be making a few exceptions, for instance, for ads in support of voter registration. The company will be sharing the final policy by November 15 and will enforce it from November 22. The aforementioned time gap will serve to provide current advertisers a notice period before the change goes into effect.
Furthermore, TikTok has also banned paid political advertisements on its platform in view of the interests of its large user base among children and teenagers. The company had further asserted that it wants to be known as a place that creates a positive and refreshing environment to inspire creativity.
Twitter’s Earlier Bans on Political Ads
In a similar move earlier in June this year, Twitter had also decided to temporarily ban political ads on its platform in Canada ahead of their federal elections. Twitter had announced its decision to selectively ban political ads as it was faced with Canada’s new election rules for online advertising.
Moreover, it had come after the country’s Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould had criticized Twitter for refusing to say whether it would comply with the new rules.
Social media giants including Google, Facebook, and Twitter had also committed to cooperate with the election commission of India ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha elections. They had agreed to not run any political ads in the particular constituencies in the last 48 hours before voters were to cast their votes.
Since most of the earlier bans by Twitter on political ads have been somewhat limited to a nation, thus a seemingly global ban on political moves is a welcome move. However, it has also stirred the debate over the dangers of misleading or false information vs. freedom of speech on the internet.
Though a global ban on political ads does seem to promise a lot on the surface, experts are still skeptical. Industry experts and analysts have added that the platform is far from solving the entire problem. They have said that political advertising is not likely a critical part of its business.
Experts have suggested that banning political ads on social media doesn’t really hurt presidential campaigns but rather smaller players in the regional/local politics. Moreover, given its nature as a social media platform, people, publishers, and politicians will still use it to discuss politics organically. Therefore, Twitter’s latest move will not completely solve the problem of misinformation.