Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey made a major announcement Wednesday that is a clear response both the current political climate in the U.S. and to the public outcry over competitor Facebook's controversial policy surrounding political advertising.
"We’ve made the decision to stop all political advertising on Twitter globally," Dorsey writes, in a tweet of course. "We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought." The company will apparently stop accepting political ads effective November 22.
Dorsey goes on to say, "While internet advertising is incredibly powerful and very effective for commercial advertisers, that power brings significant risks to politics, where it can be used to influence votes to affect the lives of millions." And in stark contrast to Mark Zuckerberg —who gave another in a long career of tone-deaf speeches the other week likening political ads to the civil rights movement — Dorsey says, "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."
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.— jack 🌍🌏🌎 (@jack) October 30, 2019
We’ll share the final policy by 11/15, including a few exceptions (ads in support of voter registration will still be allowed, for instance). We’ll start enforcing our new policy on 11/22 to provide current advertisers a notice period before this change goes into effect.— jack 🌍🌏🌎 (@jack) October 30, 2019
I have to say that this whole thread shows a Jack Dorsey that I didn't even know existed — one with the intellectual and moral strength to sort the debate about misleading political ads, the First Amendment, and the 21st Century challenges to elections that have been created by social media itself. And while most of us can easily see through Zuckerberg's cynical play to both placate conservatives and preserve a revenue stream, this decision by Dorsey and Twitter shows a company that's committed to the public good, without concern for its financial implications. The move also comes in a week after Twitter reported some lackluster third-quarter earnings, which had mostly to do with an ad revenue "glitch."
Twitter may still be Trump's favorite soapbox, and the company has twisted itself in all kinds of ideological knots trying to explain why his use of Twitter is OK, but at least it won't take his bullshit ads anymore.
"Internet political ads present entirely new challenges to civic discourse: machine learning-based optimization of messaging and micro-targeting, unchecked misleading information, and deep fakes. All at increasing velocity, sophistication, and overwhelming scale," Dorsey writes. "These challenges will affect ALL internet communication, not just political ads... 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!'"
That latter statement is a clear dig at Facebook and Zuckerberg, and the contradiction that many have pointed out between Facebook's practice of applying third-party fact-checking to most posted content on the platform, but exempting political speech from such fact-checking.
Facebook's global head of news partnerships, Campbell Brown, just took to Facebook this morning to back up her boss, posting a link to a Wall Street Journal editorial supporting Facebook's ad stance, and writing about how "astonished" she is at the media's overall reaction to Facebook's decision to allow unchecked falsehoods in political ads.
"I strongly believe it should be the role of the press to dissect the truth or lies found in political ads — not engineers at a tech company," Brown writes. "I also believe that in building out a destination for news on Facebook, we should include content from ideological publishers on both the left and the right — as long as that content meets our integrity standards for misinformation."
Brown is ignoring the fundamental identity crisis that has plagued Facebook for the last decade: The fact that it is every bit a media platform and not just a "tech company." That dissonance is reinforced in the news destination that Brown is referring to, Facebook News, which just launched in beta for some U.S. users on Friday. Among the conservative news publishers that are included and apparently meet Facebook's "integrity standards for misinformation" is Breitbart, so do with that bullshit what you will. As CNN noted over the weekend, "For those in need of a reminder, with a history of publishing misleading stories about Democrats and critics of President Donald Trump. The site also has close ties to the Trump administration, and many of its employees have gone on to work in the White House."
So, Facebook now has a newsroom that curates news stories, but it says it's still a "tech company." Also, it has a video broadcasting area called Facebook Watch, which includes both original and curated programming, and it is claiming to be following broadcaster standards in its stance on political advertising, and yet it is not a media company?
Good for you, Twitter! You may still be a cesspool of idiocy in this idiocracy — though a new Pew Research survey found that the majority of politically minded Twitter users are anti-Trump, and the vast majority don't tweet about politics at all — but at least now you'll be a cesspool without the stench of Trumpian lies that come in the form of paid ads. He'll have to lie via tweet only.
Photo: Rory Cellan