Twitter pulls back on political ads, but pitfalls await
San Francisco — Twitter called its announced end Wednesday to political campaign and issue ads on its service an important step in reducing the flow of election-related misinformation.
But some users might face an unintended consequence or two.
Among those potentially affected could be public-interest nonprofits eager to reach an audience larger than their official followers, challengers to incumbent officeholders, and — obviously — political consultants who make a living placing ad buys for their candidates.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said in a series of tweets that paid political messages in the targeted environment that social media enables can be fraught.
“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,” he wrote.
Security and privacy researchers and some Democratic politicians hailed Twitter’s decision as an important way to prevent campaigns from feeding streams of misinformation to targeted voters. The move drew a sharp contrast between Twitter and its much larger rival Facebook, which has come under fire in recent months for its policy of not fact-checking political ads.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shot back quickly, using an earnings conference call Wednesday afternoon to offer an impassioned defense of what he called his company’s deep belief “that political speech is important.”
Google did not have an immediate comment on Twitter’s policy change.
Trump’s campaign manager called Twitter’s change a “very dumb decision” in a statement Wednesday.
“This is yet another attempt to silence conservatives, since Twitter knows President Trump has the most sophisticated online program ever,” campaign manager Brad Parscale said.
Political advertising makes up a small sliver of Twitter’s overall revenue. The company does not break out specific figures each quarter, but said political ad spending for the 2018 midterm election was less than $3 million. It reported $824 million in third-quarter revenue.
Candidates spend significantly more purchasing ads on Facebook than on Twitter, company records show.
In a semi-annual report on enforcing its guidelines, Twitter said Thursday that more than 50% of the tweets it removes for abuse are now “proactively” flagged using technology such as artificial intelligence rather than needing someone to report problems. That compares with 20% a year ago, it said.
“Our continued investment in proprietary technology is steadily reducing the burden on people to report to us,” Twitter said.