Twitter has said it would stop accepting political advertising globally on its platform, responding to growing criticism over misinformation from politicians on social media.
Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey said 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”.
The move comes with Facebook under pressure to apply fact-checking to politicians running ads with debunked claims. Dorsey said the new policy, to be unveiled and enforced from November 22, would ban ads on political issues as well as from candidates.
“We considered stopping only candidate ads, but issue ads present a way to circumvent. Additionally, it isn’t fair for everyone but candidates to buy ads for issues they want to push. So we’re stopping these too.”
Dorsey said the company took the action to head off potential problems from “machine learning-based optimisation of messaging and micro-targeting, unchecked misleading information and deep fakes”.
Twitter’s move comes in contrast to the Facebook policy that allows political speech and ads to run without fact-checking on the leading social network.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said political advertising is not a major source of revenue but that he believes it is important to allow everyone a “voice”, and that banning political ads would favour incumbents.
Dorsey said he disagreed with Zuckerberg’s assessment that stopping ads would favour incumbents.
“We have witnessed many social movements reach massive scale without any political advertising. I trust this will only grow,” he said.
Some initial reaction to the Twitter announcement was positive.
“Until privately owned social media platforms can develop and consistently enforce standards to prevent demonstrably inaccurate information in political advertising, this is the right move,” said Michelle Amazeen, a Boston University professor specialising in political communication.
Nina Jankowicz, a Wilson Center fellow specialising in disinformation, also welcomed the move.
“It’s great that this move has been made globally. Too often these companies operate in a cloud of wilful ignorance about the effects their products have outside our borders,” she said.
Jankowicz said the decision could level the playing field by preventing wealthier candidates and groups from dominating the social conversation.
“Paid speech essentially quashes some groups’ ability to speak out and be heard because they can’t compete with the reach that their richer counterparts pay for,” she said.