What to Know
Facebook’s decision has sparked backlash from lawmakers and employees
Twitter is axing political ads from its site, CEO Jack Dorsey announced Wednesday.
Twitter’s stock dropped more than 1% in after hours trading following the announcement.
The move sets Twitter in stark 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. Earlier this month, Chinese video app TikTok became the first major social media platform to ban political ads from its platform.
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,” Dorsey wrote. “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.”
Dorsey said 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 Twitter to do so.
Without naming Facebook or its CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Dorsey seemed to take a shot at the company’s rhetoric around political ads. 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.
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.”
In 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. But ultimately, Zuckerberg warned about the difficulty of drawing a line in such a policy and said, “when its not absolutely clear what to do, we should err on the side of greater expression.”
Zuckerberg held firm on his political ads policy on Facebook’s earnings call, which came about an hour after Dorsey’s announcement.
Twitter CFO Ned Segal tweeted that the company will see no change 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 during the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, Segal said.
Dorsey 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.
This isn’t the first time Dorsey has taken a jab at Zuckerberg as the entire tech industry continues to receive mounting scrutiny over its privacy and competitive policies. At an event in New York last week, Dorsey said “hell no,” to the question of whether he would join Facebook’s new cryptocurrency association, according to The Verge.
Dorsey’s announcement was quickly praised by several key Democrats. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote on Twitter, “This is the right thing to do for democracy in America and all over the world. What say you, @Facebook?”
House Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline, D-R.I., also said it was a “good” step, adding, “Your move, Google/Facebook.” Cicilline is one of the leaders of the bipartisan House inquiries into Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., also applauded Twitter’s new policy. Ocasio-Cortez, who questioned Zuckerberg on political ads at a hearing last week as a member of the House Financial Services Committee, tweeted, “Not allowing for paid disinformation is one of the most basic, ethical decisions a company can make.”
President Donald Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign manager Brad Parscale called Dorsey’s announcement “a very dumb decision” in a statement posted to Twitter. Parscale said it was a move to “silence conservatives,” even though the policy applies to all political parties.
Borrowing from Zuckerberg’s approach, Dorsey made a call for regulation of his industry. But 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, Dorsey said, after it releases its final policy on Nov. 15.
This story first appeared on CNBC.com. More from CNBC:
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