Twitter to ban political ads in apparent swipe at Facebook

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Twitter founder Jack Dorsey announced Wednesday the social network has decided to "stop all political advertising on Twitter globally."
Twitter's move is in response to growing criticism over misinformation from politicians on social media. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Twitter will ban political advertising on its platform next month, the company's chief executive said on Wednesday (Oct 30), as social media platforms face pressure to block attempts to steer elections with false information.

"We've made the decision to stop all political advertising on Twitter globally," said Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in a statement.

"We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought."

Analysts do not expect the move to significantly reduce Twitter's business, but its shares fell 1.8 per cent in after-hours trading.

Social media companies, including Twitter rival Facebook face growing pressure to stop carrying ads that spread inaccurate information.

Facebook has pledged efforts to deal with misinformation after Russian propaganda on the platform was seen to affect the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election, which was won by Donald Trump.

But Facebook made a decision to not fact-check ads run by politicians, drawing ire from Democratic candidates running in the 2020 presidential election such as former vice-president Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren.

""We appreciate that Twitter recognises that they should not permit disproven smears, like those from the Trump campaign, to appear in advertisements on their platform," said Bill Russo, deputy communications director for the Biden campaign, in an emailed statement.

Biden has faced attacks from Trump, offered without evidence, about the foreign business dealings of his son Hunter.

"It would be unfortunate to suggest that the only option available to social media companies to do so is the full withdrawal of political advertising, but when faced with a choice between ad dollars and the integrity of our democracy, it is encouraging that, for once, revenue did not win out," said Russo.

Earlier this month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended the company's policy, saying it did not want to stifle political speech.

Twitter's ban takes effect on Nov 22.

Dorsey wrote on Twitter that paying for ads forces "targeted political messages on people" with a power that "brings significant risks to politics, where it can be used to influence votes to affect the lives of millions."

He added that it was not credible for Twitter to say it was trying to stop the spread of misleading information "buuut if someone pays us to target and force people to see their political ad... well... they can say whatever they want!"

Jasmine Enberg, a senior analyst for research company eMarketer, said Twitter's decision "is in stark contrast to Facebook" but added that political advertising is not likely a critical part of its business.

"And, given the nature of the platform, people, publishers and politicians will still use Twitter to discuss politics organically, meaning that it won't fully solve the problem of misinformation," she said.

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