Twitter spikes the political ad ball into congress’ court

31 October 2019 by Steve Blum
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Volleyball spike

Twitter will stop accepting political ads, for either candidates or causes. Posts on individual accounts aren’t affected. In a series of tweets (of course) CEO Jack Dorsey cited the “risks to politics” as his reason…

We’ve made the decision to stop all political advertising on Twitter globally. 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 optimized and targeted political messages on people. We believe this decision should not be compromised by money.

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…

In addition, we need more forward-looking political ad regulation (very difficult to do). Ad transparency requirements are progress, but not enough. The internet provides entirely new capabilities, and regulators need to think past the present day to ensure a level playing field.

Some have praised Dorsey for choosing principle over revenue, and he might well be doing it because he truly believes it’s right. But it’s also an effective answer to voices in congress and among the Beltway nomenklatura who complain mightily about social media spreading messages they don’t like. There’s not much they can do, because the First Amendment to the federal constitution bans any congressional interference with freedom of speech or the press.

Courts haven’t treated it as an absolute ban, though. Political advertising on over-the-air TV and radio is tightly regulated, for example. Those regulations also confer immunity on broadcasters – if they have no control over political ads, then they also have no responsibility for what’s said.

It would be next to impossible, politically and legally, to extend that regime to online media, but if it happened any blame for advertising that offends someone would shift to the people doing the complaining.

Well played.