Twitter to pull all political ads
Twitter will ban all political advertising from its platform, in a move that raises the pressure on Mark Zuckerberg following his contentious decision to allow all adverts paid for by politicians to appear on Facebook — even if they are misleading.
Just minutes before Facebook announced a bumper set of third-quarter results on Wednesday, Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, announced that his company would pull all political advertising from his platform, including commercials from politicians as well as adverts related to election issues.
“We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought,” he said.
The new policy — which will come into force on November 22 ahead of a newly announced UK election and the US 2020 presidential election — pits the midsize San Francisco company against its larger rival, which recently made a decision to exempt ads or content placed by politicians from being fact-checked by third parties. This exemption aside, Facebook has said it has broad policies in place to fact-check potentially false news or content.
In response, Mr Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive and co-founder, doubled down on his policy during the company’s earnings call, reiterating his argument that private companies should not have the power to censor politicians.
He also dismissed allegations that the decision was motivated by profits, saying that ads from politicians would account for less than 0.5 per cent of the company’s 2020 revenues.
“This is going to be a very tough year,” he said. “Anyone who says that the answers are simple hasn’t thought long enough about the nuances or downstream challenges.”
Facebook’s initial policy decision prompted fierce backlash earlier this month from Democratic lawmakers, politicians and activists who warned the system could be abused. Leftwing presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren labelled the company a “disinformation-for-profit machine”.
It also caused tension internally. Earlier this week, The New York Times reported that hundreds of Facebook employees signed a letter protesting the policy and urging the company to reconsider its position.
But Twitter’s opposing move on Wednesday, while praised by democratic figures such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Hillary Clinton, was swiftly decried by others on the right.
Brad Parscale, campaign manager for President Donald Trump’s 2020 bid, dubbed the move a “very dumb decision” for shareholders that would cost the company “hundreds of millions of dollars”. He added that it was also an “attempt to silence conservatives, since Twitter knows President Trump has the most sophisticated online program ever known”.
Ned Segal, Twitter’s chief financial officer, said that political ad spend on its platform for the 2018 US midterms was less than $3m and that there was no change to its fourth-quarter results guidance. The company’s shares fell nearly 2 per cent in after-hours trading to just under $30.
Mr Dorsey joins smaller social media rival TikTok in his decision not to run political ads.
Explaining his policy on Twitter, he said: “A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet. Paying for reach removes that decision, forcing highly optimised and targeted political messages on people. We believe this decision should not be compromised by money.”
He also called for “more forward-looking political ad regulation” and added that there would be some carve-outs to his company’s policy, such as “ads in support of voter registration”.