Twitter is banning all political ads globally, starting November 22nd, according to tweets by the company’s CEO Jack Dorsey on Wednesday.
The changes will affect both candidate ads and issue ads, although ads encouraging voter registration will still be allowed, along with other exceptions. Dorsey said a full policy will be made available to the public on November 15th.
“Some might argue our actions today could favor incumbents,” Dorsey said. “But we have witnessed many social movements reach massive scale without any political advertising.”
The company’s decision comes after weeks of Facebook stumbling over the same issue. Earlier this month, Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign penned letters to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube asking that they refuse to run false or misleading political ads. Biden’s campaign had become the target of a series of ads placed by President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign that made baseless claims regarding the Biden family’s relationship with the Ukrainian government.
In a response letter obtained by The Verge at the time, Facebook said that it would not be fact-checking claims made by politicians in ads placed on the platform.
“Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is,” Katie Harbath, Facebook’s public policy director for global elections, said earlier this month. “Thus, when a politician speaks or makes an ad, we do not send it to third party fact checkers.”
Twitter has had some policies in place to keep politicians from making false statements on its platform, but has yet to use them. Earlier this summer, Twitter said that it would gray out tweets from public figures like Trump that violated its rules and restrict users’ abilities to share them, but hasn’t implemented it on any tweets so far.
In a USA Today op-ed on Tuesday, Facebook doubled-down on its policy to allow candidates to boost misinformation. “We shouldn’t become the gatekeeper of truth on candidate ads,” Harbath and Nell McCarthy, Facebook’s director of policy management, wrote.
“This isn’t about free expression,” Dorsey said. “This is about paying for reach. And paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle.”
Dorsey’s full statement on the rule change is below (emojis removed):
We’ve made the decision to stop all political advertising on Twitter globally. We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought. Why? A few reasons…
Political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet. 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.
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.
Internet political ads present entirely new challenges to civic discourse: machine learning-based optimization of messaging and micro-targeting, unchecked misleading information, and deep fakes. All at increasing velocity, sophistication, and overwhelming scale.
These challenges will affect ALL internet communication, not just political ads. Best to focus our efforts on the root problems, without the additional burden and complexity taking money brings. Trying to fix both means fixing neither well, and harms our credibility.
For instance, 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!
We considered stopping only candidate ads, 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.
We’re well aware we‘re a small part of a much larger political advertising ecosystem. Some might argue our actions today could favor incumbents. But we have witnessed many social movements reach massive scale without any political advertising. I trust this will only grow.
In addition, we need more forward-looking political ad regulation (very difficult to do). Ad transparency requirements are progress, but not enough. The internet provides entirely new capabilities, and regulators need to think past the present day to ensure a level playing field.
We’ll share the final policy by 11/15, including a few exceptions (ads in support of voter registration will still be allowed, for instance). We’ll start enforcing our new policy on 11/22 to provide current advertisers a notice period before this change goes into effect.
A final note. This isn’t about free expression. This is about paying for reach. And 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.