“A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet,” said Dorsey, in a series of threaded tweets. “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.”
The thread continued, detailing the platform’s official stance on the paid reach of political ads and challenges that internet platforms pose to civic discourse: machine learning-based optimization of messaging, micro-targeting, unchecked misleading information, and deep fakes — “All at increasing velocity, sophistication, and overwhelming scale.”
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…?
— jack ??? (@jack) October 30, 2019
This announcement follows discourse on the subject triggered by the recent demand by PEN America that Facebook stop selling space to political ads. Their statement, released earlier this month, exhorted Facebook to decline to run political advertising that is “demonstrably false.”
PEN responded to the news of Twitter’s decision to decline all political ads, including those that are issue-based and might therefore present a workaround, with cautious optimism.
“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 a statement released by PEN CEO Susan Nossel. She continues:
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 in seeking to prevent its platform from misleading voters and polluting the democratic process.
Dorsey’s tweets promised to share the final policy by November 15, including a few exceptions, such as ads in support of voter registration. Twitter’s plan is to start enforcing its new policy on November 22 to provide notice to current advertisers before this change goes into effect. While PEN seems contented with Twitter’s position, Nossel’s statement also voiced some pushback to the plan.
“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,” said Nossel. “While we reserve judgement on how it may play out, we commend the effort to protect democratic deliberations and emphasize the role of ideas, language, and creativity — rather than money — as tools in the battle of ideas.” But it seems that Dorsey and the crew at Twitter have given this matter at least some cursory consideration.
“We’re well aware we’re a small part of a much larger political advertising ecosystem,” one of his tweets reads. “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.”
For now, it seems that Dorsey has set the gold standard for corporate accountability within the sphere of social media’s influence on matters of state. Ball’s in your court, Zuck.
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