Twitter to Ban All Political Ads, Citing Disinformation Age

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, accompanied by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 5, 2018. (Jose Luis Magana / AP)

(CN) – Social media giant Twitter announced Wednesday it will ban all political advertisements, claiming large-scale, targeted messages influences too many votes and disinformation can impact the lives of millions.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced the company’s new policy 280 characters at a time in a tweet chain, writing political advertisements present new challenges to civic discourse, like with machine learning and targeted messages that could provide “unchecked misleading information, and deep fakes” on a large scale.

Dorsey’s message comes a week after Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg was grilled by the House Financial Services Committee over his company’s role in misinformation, deep fakes and how the company has fumbled user data in the past. Zuckerberg’s testimony followed news that Facebook would not ban political ads containing false statements, and committee members said this would allow politicians to lie to users via targeted ads.

Dorsey’s message on Wednesday appeared to acknowledge this issue, writing it would be misleading for Twitter to accept money for political ads while claiming to say Twitter is attempting to stop the spread of misinformation.

“We considered stopping only candidate ads, but issue ads present a way to circumvent,” Dorsey writes. “Additionally, it isn’t fair for everyone but candidates to buy ads for issues they want to push. So we’re stopping these too.”

Twitter will roll out its new policy by Nov. 15 and begin to enforce the ban by Nov. 22. “We need forward-looking political ad regulation (very difficult to do),” Dorsey wrote.

“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.”

The sentiment is a strong contrast to Zuckerberg’s comments about the need for more free speech and his promise that Facebook will not police political speech.

During his congressional testimony, Zuckerberg attempted to downplay concerns about the social media giant’s history with political ads. The Federal Trade Commission hit Facebook with a $5 billion fine amid disclosures that the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had breached millions of users’ data without their consent for the purpose of sending send targeted ads.

“From a business perspective, the very small percent of our business that is made up of political ads, does not come anywhere close to justifying the controversy that this incurs for our company. So, this is really not about money. On principal, I believe in giving people a voice,” said Zuckerberg. “I believe that ads can be an important part of voice.”

Facebook boasts 2.4 billion monthly active users globally. Twitter saw just 330 million monthly active users in the first quarter of 2019.

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