Twitter Eschews Political Ads While Facebook Doubles Down

Last year, news broke about evidence confirming Russian buyers used Facebook advertising as propaganda leading up to the 2016 presidential election.

In response, Facebook presented Congress 3,000 Russian-purchased ads through 470 phony pages and accounts intended to exploit America’s racial divisions.

Facebook said at least $100,000 was spent for this purpose, a mere fraction of its political advertising during the 2016 campaign.

This motivated the House Intelligence Committee last November to release a sample of Facebook ads the Russian government-affiliated Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg troll farm, purchased about issues like immigration, religion, and race, for and against presidential contenders Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, and Donald Trump.

More than 11 million people between 2015 and 2017 viewed these ads.

Moreover, Russia used Facebook ads to help Trump win Michigan and Wisconsin.

One might assume going forward Facebook would prevent its format from being used to disseminate such lies and political propaganda.

However, the contrary is the case.

Facebook recently changed its advertising policies to make it easier for politicians to promulgate blatant lies.

Facebook now operates under the following the rules:

“[Facebook] prohibits ads that include claims debunked by third-party fact checkers or, in certain circumstances, claims debunked by organizations with particular expertise.”

Political figures are now exempt under these new rules.

In an Oct. 17 speech at Georgetown University, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended his company’s position:

“While I worry about an erosion of truth, I don’t think most people want to live in a world where you can only post things that tech companies judge to be 100% true.”

He asserted voters, not tech companies, should be the arbiters of politicians’ arguments, stating:

“We don’t fact-check political ads. And we don’t do this to help politicians, but because we think people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying. I know many people disagree with this, but in general, I don’t think it’s right for a private company to censor politicians or the news in a democracy.”

Twitter, though, is not having it.

As CEO Jack Dorsey announced, starting November 22, Twitter will ban all political advertising.

Last week Dorsey tweeted a lengthy thread:

He added:

“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 company sold campaigns new targeting options and promoted hashtags ahead of the 2016 election debates.

But like Facebook, it too fell prey to the Internet Research Agency, and even attempted to sell 15% of its US elections ad inventory to the RT (Russia Today) news network.

Twitter, as we all know, is Donald Trump’s favorite conduit for disseminating ad hominem attacks, mendacity, and bombast.

So naturally, he is criticizing Dorsey’s decision.

Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager, tweeted:

He added:

“Twitter just walked away from hundreds of millions of dollars of potential revenue, a very dumb decision for their stockholders. Will Twitter also be stopping ads from biased liberal media outlets who will now run unchecked as they buy obvious political content meant to attack Republicans? This is yet another attempt to silence conservatives, since Twitter knows President Trump has the most sophisticated online program ever known.”

The answer to Pascale’s question, according to Dorsey, is yes–all ads will cease, even the “biased liberal” ones.

Some are encouraging Mark Zuckerberg to follow Jack Dorsey’s lead.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) is one prominent example. He tweeted:

“Mark Zuckerberg has said he doesn’t want the responsibility of blocking false political ads. If that’s really the case, and not a desperate attempt to placate the far-right, Facebook should follow Twitter’s lead and stop running political ads on its site altogether.”

It isn’t just Trump supporters, however, who regard Dorsey’s decision as potentially harmful.

Mass. Sen. and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren believes Twitter’s blanket ban has the potential to silence climate activists while handing polluters the freedom to promote themselves.

She tweeted a link to HEATED, an environmental newsletter, stating:

Last month, Warren decided to test Facebook’s new rules:

Mark Zuckerberg has not endorsed Trump.

That’s Warren’s point.

She encourages antitrust action against major tech companies and has advocated Facebook to be fragmented into smaller entities.

Like it or not, social media is going to play an even more prominent role in 2020 and future elections.

Protecting our elections should include reining them in.

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Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.