THE TEA ON POLITICAL ADS
At 4:05 PM on October 30, 2019, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey began posting an eleven-tweet long thread describing his company’s new policy to abstain from promoting any political advertising on their platform. Hot off the heels of Mark Zuckerberg’s uncomfortable appearance in Congress last week (and a particularly heated exchange with Queen's representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (link) regarding targeted political advertisements on Facebook), Twitter’s new policy dictates that “quote.” With the 2020 elections on the horizon, the social media giant has taken itself out of any future political firestorms on the advertising front, and for good reason. In the past, the company has faced intense scrutiny for hosting prominent figures on their platform who spread objectively false information, famously allowing Alex Jones to continue posting on Twitter long after YouTube chose to ban Jones’ channel. Jones, who’s particularly notable for promoting the lie that the Sandy Hook shootings were a ‘hoax’, had his YouTube channel removed after YouTube determined that the channel violated their policies “repeatedly, like our policies against hate speech and harassment.” YouTube’s decision to remove Jones popular ‘InfoWars’ channel occurred in the wake of the highly-publicized Cambridge Analytica scandal, where it was revealed that the independent British consulting firm targeted Facebook users based on their private information with misleading political advertisements during the 2016 general election. With political disinformation campaigns on the forefront of everyone's minds, Twitter’s decision to continue allowing Jones to use the service struck many as offensive. To the company’s credit, they eventually terminated Jones’ account after he violated the company’s Terms of Service after serving him a suspension, but as political figures use the social media platform to spread objectively false information to the masses, Twitter went as far as to change their policy to allow “ elected and government officials” to circumvent the standard Twitter Terms of Service agreement. Under their current policy, certain people are permitted to spread unchecked information to the masses. Their stated rationale is that such information “may be present in tweets related to heated debate over matters of public policy,” arguing that the debate is bound to happen either way so it may as well happen on their platform. The strategy has worked- Twitter stock hit its all-time peak in September of this year.
Which all makes Twitter’s decision to abstain from political advertising all the more understandable. As the 2020 presidential campaign revs up further, increased scrutiny is bound to be placed on social media companies and their stances on political advertising. By removing themselves from the conversation entirely, the four-billion dollar company also stands a far better chance of being forgotten amidst Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s chants to disband giant tech corporations such as Google and Facebook- which would be convenient, given that Twitter itself has acquired over fifty companies since 2009.