In a shot aimed directly at Facebook and its baby-faced CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced today that the social-media site will stop running political ads beginning next month. Dorsey says that the reach of political messages should be earned, not bought. What the executive means is that political messages should gain a wide following on Twitter based on how well the message itself is received by Twitter subscribers; he says that these messages should not be forced on subscribers by having politicians pay for their distribution.
Meanwhile, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal played a part in the 2016 election, Facebook has made it clear that it not only won't stop running political ads, it won't fact check them. For example, the reelection campaign of Donald Trump recently ran some ads on Facebook that made allegations against former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter regarding the Ukrainian government. The attacks were based on nothing but bogus conspiracy theories, yet Facebook allowed the ads to run without bothering to see if there was substance to the campaign's statements.
Twitter's Dorsey admits that incumbents might be favored by this action
87 million Facebook members had their profiles used without permission in 2015-2016 after Russian-American researcher Aleksandr Kogan developed an app that allowed him to collect this information. He then allegedly sold this information to Cambridge Analytica where the data was studied to determine areas of the country where the Trump campaign needed to do some more work. By allowing this to happen, Facebook violated the terms of a consent decree that the company had signed with the FTC back in 2011. By signing the decree, Facebook had promised not to share any subscriber's profile without permission. Having obviously violated the agreement, the FTC fined Facebook $5 billion this summer, which is actually petty cash for a company that generated $55.8 billion in revenue last year.To refresh your memory,
In an op-ed piece that ran yesterday in USA Today, Facebook's Product Policy Director Nell McCarthy and its Public Policy Director for Global Elections Katie Harbath wrote, "Our policies don’t mean that politicians can say whatever they want. They can’t spread misinformation about where, when or how to vote, for example, or content that risks imminent harm or incites violence." McCarthy and Harbath went on to state that "Perhaps most critically, some say Facebook is again allowing its platform to be overtaken by the kind of misinformation efforts we remember from 2016. We disagree. Foreign interference and fake accounts are an intrusion into the electoral process that we’ve been aggressively battling for three years. The other is content produced by political candidates, who have to put their name on everything they say." The problem with this line of thinking is that politicians on both sides of the aisle lie, some more than others. Just because an ad is run by a political campaign does not make it any more honest than an ad placed by a group in Russia looking to interfere with an election.
Not that Twitter is perfect either. In fact, the platform has become quite hypocritical putting some subscribers in "Twitter jail" for minor offenses while more prominent office holders incite violence and engage in hurtful name calling without even getting a slap on the wrist. And when Twitter members file a complaint against one particular abuser of Twitter's ToS, they are told just to stop following this person. Earlier this summer, Twitter said that it would gray out tweets from public figures that violate its terms of service, but to date this has yet to be done.
Dorsey, in a series of tweets, did bring out an interesting point. "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."