CEO Jack Dorsey announced Wednesday that Twitter will ban all political ads, in a move that will increase pressure on Facebook over its controversial stance to allow politicians to advertise false statements.
Twitter had previously implemented rules and restrictions for political advertising. The announcement comes as Facebook is embroiled in a controversy over its decision to exempt ads by politicians from third-party fact-checking and from a policy that bans false statements from paid advertisements.
However, following the announcement. Twitter’s stock dropped more than 1% in after-hours trading.
The move sets Twitter in stiff contrast to Facebook, which has received criticism from lawmakers and its own employees in recent weeks over its policy to neither fact check nor remove political ads placed by politicians. Facebook has argued it should not be the one to make decisions about its users’ speech and that politician’s speech is newsworthy. Besides Twitter, Chinese video app TikTok became the first major social media platform to ban political ads from its platform earlier this month.
Dorsey explained the company’s reasoning behind the decision in a series of tweets.
“A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet.
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 Twitter CEO added on by saying that it would be “not credible” for Twitter to tell users it’s committed to stopping the spread of misinformation while allowing advertisers to target users with political ads just because they’ve paid the social media platform to do so.
Dorsey seemed to take a shot at the company’s rhetoric around political ads without naming Facebook or its CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Considering that Zuckerberg has recently been discussing the importance of “free expression” in connection to Facebook’s political ad policy, like at a Georgetown University event dedicated to that ideal.
While sharing the Georgetown speech, Zuckerberg said Facebook once considered banning political ads as well, and that they don’t even make up a significant portion of the business. Although, he warned about the difficulty of drawing a line in such a policy and said, “when it’s not absolutely clear what to do, we should err on the side of the greater expression.”
The Facebook CEO held firm on his political ads policy on Facebook’s earnings call, which came about an hour after Dorsey’s announcement. Facebook declined to comment and pointed to Zuckerberg’s prepared remarks from the company’s earnings call.
In his final tweet on the topic, Dorsey said pointedly,
“This isn’t about free expression. This is about paying for reach. And paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle. It’s worth stepping back in order to address.”
And it’s very clear that Twitter can likely rip the band-aid on political ads simply because it makes far less money on those ads than other platforms do.
So far this year, the Democratic candidates for president have spent a collective $32 million on Facebook advertisements; Donald Trump has spent $13.7 million on Facebook ads in 2019 alone. Twitter, meanwhile, takes a much smaller piece of the campaign pie, meaning it faces much less potential backlash from pulling the out.
Twitter CFO Ned Segal tweeted that the company will see no difference to its Q4 guidance based on the change. Like at Facebook, political ad spend on Twitter is a relatively small portion of the business, clocking in at less than $3 million in sales during the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, Segal said.
Additionally, Dorsey also addressed the slippery slope theory in his tweets explaining the move, saying Twitter also considered barring only candidate ads but said issue ads present a way around this. In the end, he said, Twitter decided to ban issue ads as well since the company believed it’s unfair to allow everyone but the candidates themselves to buy ads on topics they care about.
Several key democrats quickly praised Dorsey’s announcement. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tweeted, “This is the right thing to do for democracy in America and all over the world. What say you, @Facebook?”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., also applauded Twitter’s new policy after having questioned Zuckerberg on political ads at a hearing last week. As a member of the House Financial Services Committee, he tweeted, “Not allowing for paid disinformation is one of the most basic, ethical decisions a company can make.”
And not to be left behind, President Donald Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign manager Brad Parscale called Dorsey’s announcement “a very dumb decision” in a statement posted to Twitter as well. Parscale said it was a move to “silence conservatives,” even though the policy applies to all political parties.
Dorsey made a call for regulation of his industry having borrowed from Zuckerberg’s approach. Though Dorsey’s appeal was for more forward-looking political ad regulation that takes into account the unique capabilities of internet advertising.
Twitter will begin enforcing its new policy on Nov. 22, after it releases its final policy on Nov. 15.