By: Katie Snyder

Just last month, Twitter made the decision to outright ban all political advertisements leading up to the 2020 presidential election.[1] Why? Some believe it was to throw shade at Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, who recently announced Facebook’s decision to take a “hands-off” approach in monitoring political advertisements.[2] Others, such as Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, claim this decision is to reduce the overreach of those with deep pockets.[3] Dorsey tweeted, “[w]e believe political message[s]…should be earned, not bought.”[4]

While Facebook and Twitter’s approaches differ greatly, do they really make a difference? The use of political advertisements on Twitter are far less common than those on Facebook for three reasons: 1) the nature of Twitter, 2) the nature of Twitter users and 3) the number of users.[5] Users include scholars, politicians, athletes, celebrities, and your everyday person; all are users sharing differing opinions, memes, and news. Individuals can tweet publicly and gain traction via retweets and hashtags.[6] Users do not need to pay for the spread of tweets because they can simply be retweeted or contain trending hashtags. Twitter has earned roughly $5.4 million from political advertisements for the upcoming presidential election, whereas Facebook has earned roughly $73.5 million.[7] The decision to block political advertisements is likely not going to be as costly to Twitter as it would be to Facebook.[8]

Unlike Twitter, who is receiving praise for their approach to political advertisements, Facebook’s approach is receiving tremendous criticism. Critics to Facebook’s hand-off approach are arguing this approach allows politicians the “freedom to create deliberately misleading content.”[9] Others argue Facebook’s decision demonstrates their greater desire for money than accuracy.[10] As previously stated, Facebook makes a much greater profit from political advertisements than Twitter. In this year alone, Facebook has earned over $65 million dollars more than Twitter.[11] As criticism continues to grow in response to Facebook’s decision to allow political advertisements free of censorship, Zuckerberg made a statement in support of their decision arguing, “in a democracy, I don’t think it’s right for private companies to censor politicians or the news.”[12]

The International Committee on Disinformation and Fake News has criticized Facebook and warns of the consequences of unmonitored political advertisements that filter throughout social media platforms.[13] In 2018, the Committee called for “countries to ban political ads temporarily after concerns were aired about misleading information…”[14] Proponents of monitoring advertisements have warned of the results of mass manipulation through political ads, and faulted social media platforms for making profits from these manipulations.[15] In response to these critics, Monika Bickert, who serves as Facebook’s head of global policy, stated, “we therefore don’t believe that a private company should be determining for the world what is true or false in a politician’s statement.”[16] While Facebook has argued they do not believe it is their place as a private company to censor news, organizations such as the International Committee on Disinformation and Fake News disagree.[17]

The differing policies of Facebook and Twitter have been argued to be ineffective. CNBC recently published an article suggesting a middle ground would likely have greater impact in combating the spread of misleading content.[18] One tactic is limiting the use of “micro-targeting.”[19] Ellen Goodman, professor at Rutgers Law, describes micro-targeting as “serving up ads or content to these narrowly-sliced segments, personalizing them and taking advantage of vulnerabilities.”[20] Twitter did not choose to administer this tactic of micro-targeting advertisements, and instead is facing accusations of violating users’ freedom of speech.[21]

This is untrue. Twitter’s decision to ban political ads is not in violation of freedom of speech. The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”[22] It is written to prevent the government of the United States from violating one’s right to freedom of speech, not private companies such as Twitter.[23]  Similar to Facebook and other media outlets, Twitter is a private company, and Twitter has the authority to publish and/or not publish what they deem fit.[24]

Unfortunately for those who were counting on purchasing political advertisements on Twitter leading up to the 2020 Presidential election, Twitter’s ban is allowed under the Constitution. Twitter is a private company with the freedom to create policies such as the controversial ban.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Kurt Wagner & Ben Brody, Twitter CEO Dorsey Bans Political Ads in Swipe at Facebook, Bloomberg (Oct. 30, 2019, 4:06 PM), https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-10-30/twitter-to-ban-political-advertising-globally-ceo-dorsey-says.

[2] Id.

[3] Jack Dorsey (@jack), Twitter (Oct. 30, 2019, 4:05 PM), https://twitter.com/jack/status/1189634360472829952.

[4] Id.

[5] See generally Justin Walton, Twitter vs. Facebook vs. Instagram: What’s the Difference?, Investopedia (Jun. 25, 2019), https://www.investopedia.com/articles/markets/100215/twitter-vs-facebook-vs-instagram-who-target-audience.asp.

[6] Id.

[7] Aaron Mak, How Much Were Politicians Even Using Ads on Twitter?, SLATE (Oct. 31, 2019, 2:44 PM), https://slate.com/technology/2019/10/how-much-the-2020-candidates-were-spending-on-twitter.html.

[8] Id.

[9] Amol Rajan, Twitter to Ban All Political Advertising, BBC News (Oct. 31, 2019), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-50243306.

[10] Id.

[11] Mak, supra note 7.

[12] Rajan, supra note 9.

[13] Social Media Urged to Suspend Political Advertising, BBC News (Nov. 8, 2019), https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-50300846.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Rajan, supra note 9.

[18] Lauren Feiner, Both Facebook and Twitter are Getting It Wrong When It Comes to Political Ads, CNBC (Nov. 4, 2019, 2:05 PM), https://www.cnbc.com/2019/11/03/facebook-and-twitter-get-it-wrong-when-it-comes-to-political-ads.html.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Tony Romm & Issac Stanley-Becker, Twitter to Ban All Political Ads Amid 2020 Election Uproar, The Washington Post (Oct. 30, 2019, 6:21 PM), https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/10/30/twitter-ban-all-political-ads-amid-election-uproar/.

[22] First Amendment, Legal Information Institute, https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/first_amendment.

[23] Charlyne Berens, Twitter’s Ad Decision Doesn’t Attack Free Speech, The Independent (Nov. 7, 2019), https://www.theindependent.com/opinion/columnists/twitter-s-ad-decision-doesn-t-attack-free-speech/article_401f24e4-0114-11ea-8fc9-172e863210d6.html.

[24] Id. Dorsey argues the ban on political advertisements is not an issue of freedom of speech, but instead an issue of misleading information. Id.

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