World / Politics

Twitter details bans on political ads

Reuters

Twitter on Friday said its political advertising ban will include references to political candidates or legislation, and it will not allow ads that advocate for a certain outcome on social and political causes.

The popular social media site, which first announced its political ads ban last month, had not previously provided details on the new policy. On Friday, it said it will define political content as anything that references “a candidate, political party, elected or appointed government official, election, referendum, ballot measure, legislation, regulation, directive, or judicial outcome.”

Twitter said it will use a combination of automated technology and human teams to enforce the new ad policies.

The move comes as campaigns for the 2020 presidential election heat up amid growing pressure on social media companies to stop accepting ads that spread false information and could sway elections.

“We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought,” Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey said in announcing the ban.

Rival Facebook, saying it did not want to stifle political speech, has steadfastly refused calls from some politicians and others to follow Twitter’s lead, and said it would not vet political ads for misleading claims on its site.

The ban, which is expected to take effect on Nov. 22, was initially derided by U.S. President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, but later said it would not really affect them.

Twitter will allow companies and advocacy groups to run ads that promote awareness and discussion about social causes, such as environmental protection. But they will not be allowed to push for a certain political or legislative change on the issue, especially if they are advocating for something that benefits their business, Del Harvey, vice president of trust and safety, said in a conference call on Friday.

Under the new policy for example, Sierra Club could still promote their causes, but they would not be able to single out politicians they support or target those they would like to see defeated in elections, or lobby for political outcomes.

Similarly, a group could run an ad to bring awareness of gun violence as an issue, but could not call for a ban on assault weapons used in mass shootings as a ban implies legislation, Twitter said.

Advertisers who wish to run ads that promote awareness about a cause will be able to target users at the state level or higher, but not by their zip-code. And those advertisers will not be able to target people based on their political leanings, Twitter said.

Roy Temple, a partner at digital media consultancy GPS Impact who has worked with political campaigns, called the move “a gigantic cop-out” by Twitter’s CEO that does not involve the loss of much revenue, and he questioned the difficulty of implementing the complicated policy.

“I wouldn’t want to be the Twitter employee who has to make these calls and defend them,” Temple said. “Universal health care is a cause, but is there a bill related to that? Are you talking about the bill or the cause? How is that determined?”

Harvey said on Friday the new policies were not expected to change Twitter’s revenue forecast for the fourth quarter. Political ad spend for the 2018 U.S. midterm elections on Twitter was less than $3 million, the company has said.

Critics have said the ban would punish lesser-known candidates taking on well-funded incumbents in local elections.

If Facebook and Google — much larger players in digital advertising — were to adopt similar policies it would be “catastrophic” to down-ballot candidates who lack name recognition, said Eric Wilson, a political strategist based in Washington D.C.

“If Facebook considers eliminating things like microtargeting, that’s when we would panic,” Wilson said. He noted that the platform has been the best vehicle for raising grassroots support, and a similar ban could hurt candidates that do not accept large donations from corporations and political action committees, known as PACs.

Twitter said it sought to make its new rules as clear as possible. But other major tech companies, including Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google, have had widely publicized struggles to moderate the vast amount of content uploaded to their sites.

News publishers that meet certain criteria will continue to be able to run ads on Twitter that reference political content, but they cannot advocate for or against a political topic.