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Twitter announces ban on all political ads

Why Twitter is banning political ads

Twitter is halting all political advertisements across its social media platform starting late next month, founder and CEO Jack Dorsey announced Wednesday. "Political message reach should be earned, not bought," Dorsey said in a series of tweets.

"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," he said.

"While internet advertising is incredibly powerful and very effective for commercial advertisers, that power brings significant risks to politics," Dorsey added.

The ban on political ads takes effect November 22, with a few exceptions, such as ads that encourage voter registration. 

The company defines a political ad as one that refers to an election or candidate, or that advocates for or against "legislative issues of national importance," like climate change, health care, immigration or taxes, Twitter executive Vijaya Gadde said. A detailed policy will be in place by November 15, Dorsey said.

"A way to look good"

Twitter's policy stands in sharp contrast with rival Facebook, which has come under fire for its decision to allow lies in political ads. Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg has defended that policy, saying that banning such ads would be akin to censorship.

"In a democracy, I don't think it's right for private companies to censor politicians and the news," Zuckerberg said in a call with investors less than an hour after Twitter announced its new policy.

Dorsey took a swipe at his rival Wednesday, writing: "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." 

Lawmakers press Facebook CEO on misleading political ads

While Twitter makes most of its revenue from ads, it commands just over 1% of the U.S. digital advertising market, according to eMarketer. The company sold less than $3 million in political ads during the 2018 election, the company told analysts last week.

"[I]t's likely that political advertising doesn't make up a critical part of Twitter's core business," eMarketer senior analyst Jasmine Enberg said in a note. "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."

Because Twitter is so closely associated with news and politics, taking a stand on political ads would improve its standing with its users without financial costs.

"It's a way to look good without taking any financial risk for the company," Nick Thompson, editor in chief of Wired, told CBS News. "It's a costless stand for something that most people who use Twitter love."

Partisan splits

Brad Parscale, campaign manager for President Trump's 2020 campaign, harshly criticized the move. "Twitter just walked away from hundreds of millions of dollars of potential revenue, a very dumb decision for their stockholders," Parscale said in a statement on Twitter, adding, "This is yet another attempt to silence conservatives, since Twitter knows President Trump has the most sophisticated online program ever known."

Another senior official with the Trump campaign told reporters that the campaign was not spending a lot of money on Twitter but was planning to increase its spending to "seven or eight figures."

Several Democrats praised Twitter, with Senator Mark Warner of Virginia telling reporters on Wednesday that he hoped Facebook and YouTube would follow the company's lead. 

Big tech plans for handling news ahead of 2020 election

The move came as a surprise to some players in politics. A consultant on a Democratic presidential campaign told CBS News: "Twitter told no one they were going to do this. We found out the same way y'all did."

Twitter currently only allows certified campaigns and organizations to run political ads for candidates and issues. The latter tend to advocate on broader issues such as climate change, abortion rights and immigration.

National political campaigns are expected to devote most of their ad spending to broadcast and cable channels during the 2020 election cycle, according to research firm Kantar, with about 20% of the total $6 billion in spending on digital ads.

Grace Segers contributed reporting. With reporting by The Associated Press.

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