Twitter bans political advertising amid Facebook controversy — CEO Jack Dorsey explains why

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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey (Flickr Photo / JDLasica / cc2.0).

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced Wednesday his company will stop accepting political advertising on the platform.

The surprise decision is an apparent swipe at Facebook, which is currently embroiled in controversy surrounding its policy of allowing politicians to lie in advertisements. Dorsey made the announcement just moments before Facebook reported its third-quarter earnings.

Dorsey offered a few explanations for Twitter’s decision in a series of tweets. He said that “paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle,” for one.

Dorsey also said it would be disingenuous for Twitter to crack down on disinformation in all tweets except for political advertisements.

Earlier this month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended the company’s ad policy in a passionate speech about free expression at Georgetown University.

“Political ads are an important part of voice — especially for local candidates, up-and-coming challengers, and advocacy groups that may not get much media attention otherwise,” Zuckerberg said. “Banning political ads favors incumbents and whoever the media covers.”

Dorsey appeared to take direct aim at that position in one of his tweets on Wednesday.

“We’re well aware we‘re a small part of a much larger political advertising ecosystem,” he said. “Some might argue our actions today could favor incumbents. But we have witnessed many social movements reach massive scale without any political advertising. I trust this will only grow.”

Zuckerberg addressed political ads on Facebook’s earnings call. “In a democracy, I don’t think it’s right for private companies to censor politicians or the news,” he said on Wednesday. “And although I’ve considered whether we should not carry these ads in the past, and I’ll continue to do so, on balance so far I’ve thought we should continue.” Zuckerberg said political ads will be less than 0.5 percent of Facebook’s revenue next year — see his full statement here.

With the memory of Russian interference in the 2016 election fresh, and 2020 rapidly approaching, online political advertising is under a microscope. But reining in political advertising isn’t easy on massive social media platforms, even when a company commits to cracking down on the ads.

Facebook and Google, for example, have said they will stop running political ads in Washington state in order to comply with ad disclosure laws. But both platforms continue to run political advertisements.

In addition to the moratorium, Dorsey called on regulators to enact stronger guidelines governing political advertising online. Twitter’s new policy applies to both candidate and issue ads. It will take effect Nov. 22, according to Dorsey.

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