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Political messages should be earned, not bought, says CEO Jack Dorsey as Twitter bans political ads

Twitter's decision to ban political ads comes ahead of the 2020 elections in the US; in contrast, Facebook had recently decided against such ads on its platform

twitter-logo BusinessToday.In   New Delhi     Last Updated: October 31, 2019  | 12:33 IST
Political messages should be earned, not bought, says CEO Jack Dorsey as Twitter bans political ads
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey

In a major policy change by Twitter, the social media giant has decided to ban political advertisement globally, saying reach of political messages should be earned, not bought. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, through a series of tweets, said though internet advertising is incredibly powerful and very effective for commercial advertisers, it also brings "significant risks" to politics, where it can be used to influence votes to affect the lives of millions. On the other hand, Mark Zuckerberg-led social media rival Facebook had recently decided against banning political ads on its platform.

Justifying his company's decision, Jack said: "A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet. Paying for reach removes that decision, forcing highly optimised and targeted political messages on people. We believe this decision should not be compromised by money." The social media platform's decision to ban political ads comes ahead of the 2020 elections in the US.

Talking about the challenges arising out of paid political ads on social media, the Twitter CEO said it leads to machine learning-based optimisation of messaging and micro-targeting, unchecked misleading information, and deep fakes. "All at increasing velocity, sophistication, and overwhelming scale," he said. He maintained that these challenges would affect all internet communication not just political ads, so it's best to focus on the root problems than taking additional burden by allowing paid political ads. "Trying to fix both means fixing neither well, and harms our credibility," he said.

Also read: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey took home salary of Rs 100 in 2018

Citing an example, Jack said it was not okay for companies to allow political ads that spread "misleading info" if they are paid. "For instance, it's not credible for us to say: 'We're working hard to stop people from gaming our systems to spread misleading info, but if someone pays us to target and force people to see their political ad...well...they can say whatever they want!'" he said.

Jack said though Twitter was a small part of a larger advertising ecosystem, he hoped it would lead to a social movement. "We're well aware we're a small part of a much larger political advertising ecosystem. Some might argue our actions today could favour incumbents. But we have witnessed many social movements reach a massive scale without any political advertising. I trust this will only grow," he said.

The Twitter CEO vouched for a forward-looking political ad regulation, which should start from ad transparency requirement. "The internet provides entirely new capabilities, and regulators need to think past the present day to ensure a level playing field," he said. Twitter's ban on political ads will be effective from November 22. The company will share the final ad policy on November 15, wherein it would allow certain exceptions like ads in support of voter registration.

The Twitter CEO said the company's decision to ban political ads was not about free expression but 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 to address," he said.

Edited by Manoj Sharma

Also read: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey won't face Indian parliamentary panel on Feb 25

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