Creator and co-founder of Twitter, Inc. Jack Dorsey. courtesy The DEMO Conference/Flickr

Twitter bans political ads among spread of misinformation

After Facebook was criticized for allowing extremist ads, Twitter is taking a stand by banning all political advertisements.

In a move that came as a surprise to many, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that the platform will not be accepting political tweets for advertisement any longer. The decision, according to a tweet from Dorsey, alleges that it is the belief of Twitter that “political message reach should be earned, not bought.” Whether or not that is true is up to interpretation, but the move certainly ups the ante for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who has come under scrutiny for a handful of issues in relation to elections.

Zuckerberg first came under heavy fire for Facebook’s role in the 2016 election, when fake news became more than just the annoying ads on shady websites, but a weaponized tool to sway voters. Evidence has been found in a plethora of locations on the social media site of fake news being pressed by Russian sources, most of them spreading misinformation or trying to cause strife and further polarization.

Following the election, misinformation grew to become a hot topic in other areas. Homeopathy, which at its core may seem innocuous, is now having real world consequences. Diseases that were thought to have been beaten, such as measles, are making comebacks attributed mostly to the spread of anti-vaxxer misinformation.

A similarly popular claim is that vaccines, the MMR vaccine in particular, can cause autism, which is simply untrue. Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who published the original, now popularly refuted study proposing the link has lost his medical license as a result of the falsified information.

Facebook’s response to the issue was to create a “war room” for the 2018 midterms, in which a small group of employees were tasked with combating fake news. The room also had a number of TVs tuned into major news networks to give the workers a reference for hot topics that might be posted about. Unfortunately, the move was received mostly as a PR stunt, and many frequent Facebook critics showed no sign of toning down their harsh tones. One year after the midterm election, the social media giant is under as much scrutiny as ever.

Twitter’s recent decision is a move to combat a new controversy that has risen out of Facebook’s seemingly ceaseless turmoil. What may have started as just fake news being shared from person to person through more direct interaction has now evolved. It is now potentially a much larger problem as false information is now not only being advertised to people, but also being given the option to target certain groups with advertisement.

After Facebook released new terms for political advertisements, people quickly realized that the rules subtly allowed for the use of fake information, as there was no prohibition on the use of false information in political advertisements. Consequently, the problem of candidate and issue promotion on social media almost immediately grew into a national scandal. Elizabeth Warren responded promptly to the revelation with a promotion that led with patently false information to grab attention, only to segue into a stern discussion on the newly established rules for the platform.

The Massachusetts senator’s jab at Facebook also comes after a scandal involving Zuckerberg’s apparent sentiment toward the presidential candidate earlier this year. In a leaked audio file from a Q&A session with employees, Zuckerberg can be heard saying “You have someone like Elizabeth Warren who thinks that the right answer is to break up the companies . . . if someone’s going to try to threaten something that existential, you go to the mat and you fight.”

Twitter’s decision is certainly not one that everyone is pleased with. Donald Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale took to the platform shortly after the announcement with his own response.

In his official statement, Parscale writes, “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?”
The statement continues, “This is yet another attempt to silence conservatives, since Twitter knows President Trump has the most sophisticated online program ever known.”
The main concern for Parscale appears to be that the rule will not be implemented fairly and that Twitter is actually taking steps to undermine conservative efforts on the platform.

As the election drama continues, all eyes are on Facebook to see whether they will adapt their conditions or reject change. It is evident that Zuckerberg feels his enterprise is threatened by some beliefs festering in the Democratic party, and action against fake news could certainly benefit people like Warren when Russian trolls and bots have a history of favoring Donald Trump. How and if Facebook will respond to their problems is still unclear at present.

Post Author: Zach Short