Twitter’s ban on political ads came into force today, but the company’s new policy has raised more questions than answers since the platform unveiled details of it on 15 November.
What’s the policy?
Twitter said that it would prohibit the promotion of political content, as the company’s CEO Jack Dorsey said they believe that “political message reach should be earned, not bought”. Announcing the company’s decision to ban political ads on its platform on 30 October, Dorsey said the power of Internet advertising poses risks to politics, “where it can be used to influence votes to affect the lives of millions”.
What does Twitter define as political content?
The company said that starting from 22 November, content that refers to a candidate, a political party, elected or appointed government official, election, referendum, ballot measure, legislation, regulation, directive or judicial outcome will be deemed political. Advertisements that contain references to political content, including calls to vote for a certain candidate or party, solicitations of financial support and advocacy for or against any type of political content mentioned above would be banned from its platform. The company said that candidates, political parties, elected or appointed government officials will also be banned.
Are there any exemptions from the ban?
Twitter said that news publishers that comply with the company’s criteria “may run ads that reference political content and/or prohibited advertisers under our political content policy”, but they cannot include advocacy for or against those topics or advertisers.
Twitter has also made a U-turn on issue ads, namely ads that are intended to bring awareness to certain problems. Announcing Twitter’s decision to ban political ads on the platform, CEO Jack Dorsey said that they can be used to circumvent Twitter’s new policy, adding that it would be unfair if everyone except for politicians is able to buy ads to promote the issues they want.
Since the announcement, the company has introduced changes to issuing ads requiring “advertiser certification for ads that educate, raise awareness, and/or call for people to take action in connection with civic engagement, economic growth, environmental stewardship, or social equity causes”.
At the same time, these would be banned if they are used to advocate for or against a specific political, judicial, legislative or regulatory outcome.
How does this work in practice? A non-profit organisation may buy an ad that tells about the benefits of vaccination, however, the ad can’t encourage the passage of some laws or direct people to the websites of certain candidates that support the measure.
Twitter has also introduced several restrictions in this category. Ad targeting is limited and restricted to geo, interest targeting, and keywords. Keyword and interest targeting cannot use terms associated with political content, for example – conservative or liberal.
Will it work?
Twitter’s decision to ban political ads has received mixed reactions, with critics of the social media platform doubting it would be able to implement the new strategy, given its unimpressive record on banning hate speech and abuse on its website.
Vijaya Godde, the legal, policy as well as trust and safety lead at Twitter, admitted that the company is prepared that it will “make some mistakes” and stressed that the platform is going to have to learn and improve its new strategy.