Monday, November 4, 2019 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Twitter’s Ban on Political Ads

Will Oremus:

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced on Wednesday that the company will ban political advertising, a move that earned the company a rare wave of positive press.

[…]

There’s something to be said for a tech platform taking its responsibilities to the democratic process seriously. But banning political ads is not as straightforward, nor as obviously correct, as those cheering Dorsey’s announcement seem to think.

The problem is twofold. First, defining which ads count as “political” gets tricky in a hurry. Second, prioritizing commercial speech over political speech is itself a political stance, and not necessarily one that we should want our online communication platforms to take.

Facebook’s policy is to allow such ads but to “[exempt] political candidates from its rules on misinformation in advertising.” This perhaps makes sense because fact checking is not straightforward, and it would set them up to be blamed for any controversial decision. But it creates an obvious loophole, which is already being exploited.

Update (2019-11-05): Ben Thompson:

Start with the latter: it is hard to interpret Twitter’s decision as anything other than a Strategy Credit. The company, by its own admission, earned an immaterial amount of revenue from political ads in the last election cycle; now it gets to wash its hands of the entire problem and chalk up whatever amount of revenue it misses out on as an investment in great PR.

Such a policy, however, particularly were it applied to Facebook, where much more advertising is done (political or otherwise), would significantly disadvantage new candidates without large followings, particularly in smaller elections without significant media coverage. It is, at a minimum, a rejection of social media’s third estate role; best to leave the messy politics to the parties and the mass media.

Facebook, meanwhile, has struggled to defend its decision in the context of a “marketplace of ideas”. After all, what value is there in a lie? In fact, Mill would argue, there is a great deal of value in exactly that, but it’s a hard case to make! Never mind that most disputes would be less about easily disprovable lies and more about challengeable assumptions.

2 Comments

>This perhaps makes sense because fact checking is not straightforward,
>and it would set them up to be blamed for any controversial decision

They'll be blamed either way, but at least they'd be doing the right thing, instead of contributing to the end of democracy.

Also, this: https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/11/04/i-worked-political-ads-facebook-they-profit-by-manipulating-us/

"The real problem is that Facebook profits partly by amplifying lies and selling dangerous targeting tools that allow political operatives to engage in a new level of information warfare. Its business model exploits our data to let advertisers custom-target people, show us each a different version of the truth and manipulate us with hyper-customized ads — ads that, as of two weeks ago, can contain blatantly false and debunked information if they’re run by a political campaign. As long as Facebook prioritizes profit over healthy discourse, they can’t avoid damaging democracies."

It's pretty obvious that Facebook could fix this, but they decide not to because not fixing it makes them a ton of money.

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