Twitter chief executive officer Jack Dorsey announced today (30 October) that the social platform will ban political ads starting 22 November.
“A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet,” Dorsey wrote in a Twitter thread. “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.”
Twitter’s stance against political ads comes just as Facebook is caught in both internal and external drama regarding its policies.
Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg has framed the issue as one of free speech, saying the company will allow political ads even if they include misinformation.
Facebook’s own employees wrote a letter to Zuckerberg saying its policy is a threat to what the company stands for, according to The New York Times.
Politicians have also called out Facebook's practices. Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has been running false ads on the platform to highlight what she claims is Facebook's ability to let politicians lie on the platform.
Zuckerberg addressed Facebook's political ad policy again today during the company's third quarter earnings call, doubling down on the company's free speech stance.
"In a democracy, I don't think it's right for private companies to censor politicians or the news," Zuckerberg said. "And although I've considered whether we should not carry these ads in the past, and I’ll continue to do so, on balance so far I've thought we should continue
Dorsey seemingly called out Facebook’s practices in his thread:
For instance, 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! ”— jack (@jack) October 30, 2019
Twitter chief financial officer Ned Segal said the move was one of principle, not money.
Since we are getting questions: This decision was based on principle, not money. As context, we’ve disclosed that political ad spend for the 2018 US midterms was <$3M. There is no change to our Q4 guidance. I am proud to work @twitter! #LoveWhereYouWork https://t.co/U9I0o1woev— Ned Segal (@nedsegal) October 30, 2019
Twitter's ad revenue in 2018 totaled $1.3bn, and eMarketer projected that number to reach $2.06bn before Dorsey made today's announcement. The firm also doesn't expect a sizable revenue hit.
“Twitter’s decision to ban political advertising is in stark contrast to Facebook, and in line with its continued efforts to improve the health of the platform,” said eMarketer senior analyst Jasmine Enberg. “But it’s likely that political advertising doesn’t make up a critical part of Twitter’s core business. And, given the nature of the platform, people, publishers and politicians will still use Twitter to discuss politics organically, meaning that it won’t fully solve the problem of misinformation.”
Dorsey acknowledged that the move to ban political ads may favor incumbents, but noted that “we have witnessed many social movements reach massive scale without any political advertising. I trust this will only grow.”
Twitter will share its full policy on 15 November.
“This isn’t about free expression,” Dorsey said. “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.”