Twitter pulls political ads

Ban on political advertising by social network will be in place three weeks before the UK parliamentary election

Twitter is set to become the first social network to ban political advertising. The company’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, made the announcement on Wednesday October 30 via a Twitter thread.

“We've made the decision to stop all political advertising on Twitter globally,” he said. “We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought.

“A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet. Paying for reach removes that decision, forcing highly optimised and targeted political messages on people. We believe this decision should not be compromised by money.”

Dorsey said the company would share more details about the policy on November 15 and would stop accepting political ads on November 22, three weeks before the UK parliamentary election.

The announcement will not greatly affect Twitter’s overall financial performance. Company CFO Ned Segal tweeted on October 30 that in 2018 Twitter made less than $3m from political ads. It should be added, however, that with the UK general election weeks away and the US presidential election next year, that figure would have been significantly higher over the next 12 months.

The move comes at a time when social networks are under very close scrutiny for their handling of political ads. Facebook was widely criticised for enabling ads that relayed “untrue facts” and were paid for by outsiders during the EU referendum in the UK and the US presidential election of 2016.

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However, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has insisted that his company will continue to run political advertising, even though it will only account for less than 0.5 per cent of next year’s revenue.

Not everyone at Facebook agrees with the boss. The New York Times reported that several employees had sent a letter to Zuckerberg and other company leaders arguing that “high-profile politicians can out-spend new voices and drown out the competition” on the platform.

A number of high-profile politicians have responded positively to the news. Hilary Clinton tweeted that she thought the ban was “the right thing to do for democracy in America and all over the world”.

Yet Brad Parscale, manager of President Donald Trump's re-election campaign, said the ban was "yet another attempt by the left to silence Trump and conservatives".

The BBC's Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg also weighed into the debate suggesting that even without ads the messages get through as political strategists often count on their message being spread for free.

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