Political ads on social media: What you need to know

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Social media giants Twitter and Facebook have outlined starkly different policies in regards to political advertising on their platforms.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced on Wednesday that his platform would no longer take any political ads. The announcement came after Facebook clarified that it would not restrict speech from politicians in advertisements, even if the advertisements include false statements, hate speech or misleading content.

  • Watch Jason Carr’s report above.

Here are the key points:

Political ads on Facebook

  • In September, Facebook clarified that speech from politicians is officially exempt from the platform’s fact checking and decency standards.
    • The social media site’s policy has been characterized as giving politicians free reign over the content they post.
  • Facebook has said it would not restrict politicians from posting false statements, hate speech or misleading content.
  • Earlier this month, the Donald Trump presidential campaign released an ad accusing former Vice President Joe Biden of offering Ukraine $1 billion in aid if the country pushed out a prosecutor investigating a company tied to Biden’s son.
    • The ad stated, “Joe Biden promised Ukraine $1 billion if they fired the prosecutor investigating his son’s company, but when President Trump asks Ukraine to investigate corruption, the Democrats want to impeach him.”
    • CNN immediately refused to air the ad, saying it made false accusations.
    • Facebook aired the ad and refused a request from the Biden campaign to take it down, saying it did not violate company policies.
    • The ad has been viewed millions of times.
  • Elizabeth Warren’s campaign this month bought a political ad on the social media site that purposefully included false claims about Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, to goad the company to remove misinformation.
    • The ad stated that Facebook and Zuckerberg had officially backed the reelection of Trump. Neither Zuckerberg nor the company had announced support of any candidate.
    • Warren states in the ad, “You’re probably shocked, and you might be thinking, ‘how could this possibly be true?’ Well, it’s not.”
  • Zuckerberg, speaking at Georgetown University on October 17, doubled down on the company’s stance.
    • “I believe that when it’s not absolutely clear what to do, we should err on the side of greater expression,” he said.
    • Zuckerberg added that from a business perspective, the controversy is “not worth the very small part of the business that they make up.”

Twitter bans political ads

  • Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced on Wednesday that his platform would no longer take political ads—a stark contrast to Facebook’s policy.
  • Dorsey explained his stance in a lengthy tweet thread.
    • The CEO explained that by paying for ads, politicians can force highly optimized and targeted messages on people.
    • “Internet political ads present entirely new challenges to civic discourse: machine learning-based optimization of messaging and micro-targeting, unchecked misleading information, and deep fakes,” he said.
    • “This isn’t about free expression,” Dorsey continued, seemingly taking a shot at Facebook’s rhetoric without naming Zuckerberg. “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,”
  • Like at Facebook, political ad spending on Twitter accounts for a small portion of the business.
    • Political ad spending on Twitter in the 2018 midterms was less than $3 million, according to Twitter’s CFO.

Politicians respond

  • Hillary Clinton: “This is the right thing to do for democracy in America and all over the world.”
  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.: “This is a good call. Technology - and social media especially - has a powerful responsibility in preserving the integrity of our elections.”
  • Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, in an official statement called Dorsey’s announcement a “very dumb decision” and said it was an “attempt to silence conservatives.”
    • The policy, as explained by Dorsey, would apply to all politicians—not just conservatives.
  • Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, criticized the decision in an op-ed published by The Hill, titled “Mark Zuckerberg is right, Jack Dorsey is wrong.”
    • Cruz said that Twitter’s policy will only stand to benefit incumbent politicians and the “mainstream media.”
    • “Incumbent politicians have tons of money and a huge megaphone to spread their message,” he said. “If you ban political advertising from social media, how on earth is any upstart challenger supposed to beat an incumbent?”
    • Cruz continued, “If you think a lot of media are really, really biased, then censoring citizens and candidates and giving the media a monopoly is a terrible idea.”

About the Authors:

Brian is an Associate Producer for ClickOnDetroit. He graduated from the University of Michigan-Dearborn with a degree in Journalism and Screen Studies.