Tech

Twitter Bans All Political Ads: The Debate on Freedom of Expression Online Continues

It’s Twitter versus Facebook in this debate on political advertising online.
ILLUSTRATOR Roland Mae Tanglao
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As Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg continues to be under fire for allowing Facebook ads to shape global politics, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey is taking the step that many have been waiting for Zuckerberg to make for years—Twitter will officially ban all political advertisements from its platform globally. The ad ban will take effect on November 22, while the details of the full policy will be made available to the public on November 1.

Political ads on social media have been the subject of global controversy for using user data and behavior to political ends. The ban will encompass all candidate and party ads, however ads encouraging voter registration will be allowed.

The debate over advertisements, free expression, and social media has been decisive in the tech world, with Twitter on the side that sees the terrible ramifications of political online ads and Facebook on the side of free expression. It’s not a black and white argument. One side debates that political ads let rich politicians amplify their messages even if they contain misinformation and propaganda, while the other side says that political ads also give smaller politicians an avenue to reach an audience online that they couldn’t reach on the ground.

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The way Facebook sees it, free expression, even if it contains lies, shouldn’t be censored. But to Twitter, “This isn’t about free expression,” said Dorsey. “This is about paying for reach.” Dorsey argues that more money lets you amplify your message. Thus, the richer you are, the louder you are, and the easier it is to drown out the competition.

The two Silicon Valley giants have been indirectly responding to each other’s arguments through statements and speeches. Here’s the gist of their points.

The argument of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey

Dorsey’s full statement can be found on this thread. The following is the first tweet.

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Here are some key points from Dorsey's thread:

“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.

“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.

“We’re well aware we‘re a small part of a much larger political advertising ecosystem. Some might argue our actions today could favor incumbents. But we have witnessed many social movements reach massive scale without any political advertising.”

The argument of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

Meanwhile, here are Zuckerberg’s points that he hashed out a few weeks ago at Georgetown University.

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“Political ads are an important part of voice—especially for local candidates, up-and-coming challengers, and advocacy groups that may not get much media attention otherwise. Banning political ads favors incumbents and whoever the media covers.

“We don’t fact-check political ads. We don’t do this to help politicians, but because we think people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying.

“While I worry about an erosion of truth, I don’t think most people want to live in a world where you can only post things that tech companies judge to be 100 percent true.”

It’s a complicated scenario, to say the least, and many are siding with Twitter on this one. But Zuckerberg does pose one valid question: Should tech companies become the new gatekeepers of truth?

Some food for thought.

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Anri Ichimura
Staff Writer, Esquire Philippines
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