In Depth

Why Twitter is banning political advertising

Chief executive Jack Dorsey says ‘political message reach should be earned, not bought’

Twitter is to ban all political advertising worldwide because of the risk from highly targeted ads, misleading information and what it calls “deep fakes”.

Posting on the social media website, CEO Jack Dorsey said he was taking the move because “political message reach should be earned, not bought”.

Explaining that “reach” was what a happens when “people decide to follow an account or retweet”, he said that “paying for reach removes that decision” and the decision “should not be compromised by money”.

He continued: “While internet advertising is incredibly powerful and very effective for commercial advertisers, that power brings significant risks to politics.”

Twitter’s rival, Facebook, has recently ruled out a ban on political advertising. Reacting to the news, founder Mark Zuckerberg said: “In a democracy, I don’t think it’s right for private companies to censor politicians or the news.”

The Guardian says a segment of Dorsey’s statement appeared to “mock” Zuckerberg’s recent attempts to justify its decisions to exempt posts by politicians from its third-party fact-checking.

“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!’” wrote the Twitter boss, accompanying the tweet with a wink emoji.

The Times agrees that the statement “has been perceived as Twitter attempting to get one over on its larger rival, Facebook”.

News of the ban has divided opinion. Donald Trump’s campaign team denounced the decision as “very dumb” and “yet another attempt to silence conservatives”.

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The statement from Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale also said Twitter’s stockholders would suffer because the firm would lose “hundreds of millions of dollars of potential revenue”. Twitter’s shares were down 3% in after-hours trading.

However, Trump’s 2016 rival Hillary Clinton, welcomed Twitter’s ban and challenged Facebook to change its mind and follow suit.

The BBC says that in the forthcoming US election campaign the teams will spend about $6bn (£4.6bn) on advertising but most of it will go on TV ads, with about 20% put into digital ads.

Carl Miller, a social media analyst, said it was “one of the first times a tech giant has stepped back in concern for the enormous disruptions they’re doing to the institutions that don’t move as quickly as them”.

J Nathan Matias, an assistant professor of communication at Cornell University, warned that it is “very hard to define ‘political’ things from non-political discourse” and encouraged Twitter to ensure its policies are not “too loose or their enforcement too clumsy”.

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