Twitter bans political ads ahead of 2020 US elections, Facebook gives all 'level playing field'

Experts have stated that while Twitter's guidelines define a news organisation, loopholes such as partisan websites that promote political content is unlikely to be flagged

Twitter relaxes 140-character limit giving more room to tweet
A man reads tweets on his phone in front of a displayed Twitter logo in Bordeaux, southwestern France Reuters

Twitter on Friday said its new ban on political advertisements includes references to candidates asking for votes, contributions, legislature and political content. However, the company also expects likely loopholes in the future.

While the social media giant had previously stated that it would implement its policy regarding political ads, the latest statement said it has updated its policies to define political content as anything that references "a candidate, political party, elected or appointed government official, election, referendum, ballot measure, legislation, regulation, directive, or judicial outcome," as per Reuters.

While the worldwide ban was announced on October 30, details such a combination of automated technology and human teams in enforcing new ad policies were revealed. The guidelines will take effect on Friday, November 22. Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey said, "We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought."

Coverage of the political campaign by news organisation will, however, be exempted from the ad ban according to its news coverage guidelines. However, experts have stated that while the guidelines define a news organisation, loopholes such as partisan websites that promote political content is unlikely to be flagged.

The policy framework state that while ads referring to social causes such as climate change, abortion awareness, gun violence will be allowed, ZIP code-based targetting to aim political identity such as "conservative" or "liberal" will not be allowed. The ads will largely target users based on their state or province, reported Associated Press.

Twitter's hard stance on political ads comes weeks after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated that the company will allow political ads including those containing misinformation. Zuckerberg was grilled by US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at the House financial services committee on Facebook's controversial decision on not fact-check political advertisements.

In a question on whether a political ad claiming lies can be allowed to run on Facebook, Zuckerberg said, "I think lying is bad". He stated that if the content does not carry any imminent danger or threat to users, ads claiming misinformation can be shared as users had the "democratic" right to choose their candidates based on the claims. Facebook has said that it will give everyone a "level playing field" to express regardless of authenticity.

An illustration picture shows the log-on icon for the Website Twitter on an Ipad in Bordeaux, Southwestern France, January 30, 2013. Reuters

The issue of political ads gained momentum over the past few months as Twitter, Facebook and Youtube refused to remove a contentious video from US President Donald Trump which made misleading statements about presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Aside from ongoing concerns about foreign elections interference, the political advertising issue rose to the forefront in recent months as Twitter, along with Facebook and Google, refused to remove a misleading video ad from President Donald Trump's campaign that targeted Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

It was only recently that Facebook stated that it will be removing all posts containing the potential whistleblower's identity whose complaint led to US President Donald Trump's impeachment probe. The statement came days after a Washington Post article pointed out paid ads containing the alleged whistleblower's identity was viewed several hundred thousand times. The ads were taken down by the social media platform on Wednesday following the newspaper's probe.

While Twitter issued a statement that said "personally identifiable information about any individual, including the alleged whistleblower" is prohibited from sharing, several posts containing the whistleblower's name were reported to be circulating last week. The issue is pertaining to Twitter's policy in which an individual's name is not considered personal information.

Difficult way ahead

The campaign manager for Trump's 2020 Presidential elections in a statement called Twitter's political ad ban, "yet another attempt to silence conservatives, since Twitter knows President Trump has the most sophisticated online program ever known," as per Reuters.

The shadows of people holding mobile phones are cast onto a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo in this illustration picture taken in Warsaw September 27, 2013 Kacper Pempel/Reuters

Digital media experts including Roy Temple, partner at media consultancy company GPS Impact who has worked in political campaigns told Reuters that Twitter's move is a "gigantic cop-out." "Universal healthcare is a cause, but is there a bill related to that? Are you talking about the bill or the cause? How is that determined?" he asked.

Twitter's ban on political ads according to some is not considered as impactful if it was Facebook or Google who implemented the ban. "If Facebook considers eliminating things like microtargeting, that's when we would panic," Washington-based political strategist Eric Wilson was quoted as saying.
He also said the selective microtargeting has been the best way of garnering grassroots support and can hurt the chances of candidates that do not accept large donations from corporations and political action committees (PACs).

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