Twitter is banning political ads on the platform, a move that has drawn a lot of attention, not all of it laudatory.
Edge providers are under pressure inside the Beltway to prevent a repeat of the kind of 2016 foreign election meddling that exploited social media platforms with ad campaigns that could have affected the outcome of the presidential race.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted the decision and his explanation for the ban, which he said applies to both candidate and issue ads. "We considered stopping only candidate ads," he said, "but issue ads present a way to circumvent. Additionally, it isn’t fair for everyone but candidates to buy ads for issues they want to push. So we're stopping these too."
On the news of Twitter's, Jessica González, VP of strategy and senior counsel at Free Press and Change the Terms co-founder, said: "It’s encouraging to see Twitter break ranks in Silicon Valley and attempt to stop exploitative political actors from endangering lives, spreading misinformation, and suppressing democracy. Twitter’s decision is not a comprehensive or long-term solution to address online hate, but the move is a step ahead of Facebook. [Facebook CEO] Mark Zuckerberg should end his platform’s misguided free pass for politicians at the expense of public safety."
The reaction from free speech advocacy group PEN America was similarly mixed.
“We respect Twitter’s decision to take a pause from running political advertising, recognizing that such ads on social media can have powerful distorting effects on public discourse," said Pen America CEO Suzanne Nossel. "We cannot risk a repeat of the 2016 election where the scourge of misinformation raised serious questions about whether the Democratic process could be trusted.
"As a private platform, it is reasonable for Twitter to take the time to figure out whether and how the manifest ill consequences of micro-targeted ads can be mitigated. While political ads represent an important part of our democratic discourse, online advertising methods pose unique concerns that lawmakers, companies, and civil society are only beginning to understand, much less address. We welcome Twitter’s willingness to put responsibility above revenue...
“Still, we recognize that there are many unanswered questions and that this policy may have some unintended consequences, including, for example, advancing incumbents who rely less on ads."