In 2019, under the direction of then-CEO Jack Dorsey, Twitter announced that it had banned all “cause-based” and political advertising on the social media platform, ostensibly to prevent and slow the spread of “disinformation” and “misinformation.”
Now, however, under current CEO Elon Musk, that ban has been reversed and Twitter will henceforth allow for paid and promoted ads for politicians, political groups, and various political issues and causes, the Associated Press reported.
“Cause-based” and political ads will now be allowed
The announced change came in a pair of tweets on Wednesday from the official Twitter Safety account, and while the news was undoubtedly welcomed by some of the platform’s users, it left others who supported the ban stunned by the policy shift.
“We believe that cause-based advertising can facilitate public conversation around important topics. Today, we’re relaxing our ads policy for cause-based ads in the US. We also plan to expand the political advertising we permit in the coming weeks,” the Twitter Safety account stated.
“Moving forward, we will align our advertising policy with that of TV and other media outlets. As with all policy changes, we will first ensure that our approach to reviewing and approving content protects people on Twitter. We’ll share more details as this work progresses,” the official account added.
Moving forward, we will align our advertising policy with that of TV and other media outlets. As with all policy changes, we will first ensure that our approach to reviewing and approving content protects people on Twitter. We’ll share more details as this work progresses.
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) January 3, 2023
Dorsey’s reasoning for the ban
At the time the political ads ban was first announced in Oct. 2019, then-CEO Dorsey posted a lengthy thread of tweets to explain the new policy and wrote, “A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet. Paying for reach removes that decision, forcing highly optimized and targeted political messages on people. We believe this decision should not be compromised by money.”
“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,” he continued. “Internet political ads present entirely new challenges to civic discourse: machine learning-based optimization of messaging and micro-targeting, unchecked misleading information, and deep fakes. All at increasing velocity, sophistication, and overwhelming scale.”
Dorsey eventually concluded, “A final note. This isn’t about free expression. This is about paying for reach. And paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle. It’s worth stepping back in order to address.”
It likely isn’t really about the money
According to Politico, this unexpected change in Twitter’s policy comes amid reports that several corporate advertisers have paused ad campaigns or fled the social media platform altogether in the wake of the chaos and uncertainty that erupted following Musk’s acquisition of Twitter last year.
That has prompted some critics to suggest that this sudden reversal of the ban on cause-based and political advertising is little more than a thinly-disguised attempt by the platform to try and recoup some of the lost advertising revenue it heavily relies upon.
However, the suggestion that allowing a resumption of political and issues-based ads will make up for the difference seems like a reach, as Twitter’s then-Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal had acknowledged at the time the ban was imposed in 2019 that political ads in the 2018 midterm cycle accounted for only about $3 million in revenue out of the $3 billion-plus in total revenue earned by the platform that same year.
Other platforms already relaxed bans on political ads
Interestingly enough, for all of the outcry over various policy changes that have occurred since Musk took over at Twitter, Politico noted that this particular move by the platform merely puts it back in line with the other major social media platforms, such as Meta’s Facebook and Google’s YouTube, that had already relaxed its own respective previously imposed bans on paid political ads.
In the end, though some will weep and moan and hyperbolically lament this policy shift as an end of democracy and the world as we’ve known it, it is, in fact, simply a return to the prior status quo and the world will keep spinning and “democracy” — including paid ads to promote candidates and causes — will continue to persist as a form of governance.