Twitter To Halt Political Ads, In Contrast To Facebook

Oct 30, 2019
Originally published on October 30, 2019 5:31 pm

Updated at 6:04 p.m. ET

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that his social media platform will stop running political ads, citing online ads' "significant risks to politics." Facebook has been criticized for allowing deceptive political ads.

"We've made the decision to stop all political advertising on Twitter globally. We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought," Dorsey tweeted late Wednesday afternoon.

He explained his reasons in a long thread of tweets.

"A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet," Dorsey wrote. "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 said that online 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."

In an apparent jab at Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Dorsey tweeted, with a wink emoji: "it's not credible for us to say: 'We're working hard to stop people from gaming our systems to spread misleading info, buuut if someone pays us to target and force people to see their political ad...well...they can say whatever they want!' "

Dorsey was referring to Zuckerberg's decision not to block political speech on Facebook, even if it contains misleading statements.

"Our policy is that we do not fact-check politicians' speech, and the reason for that is that we believe that in a democracy, it is important that people can see for themselves what politicians are saying," Zuckerberg told a U.S. House committee last week.

This afternoon, Zuckerberg again defended Facebook's policy on not checking politicians' ads during a conference call about the company's financial performance.

"We need to be careful about adopting more and more rules that restrict the way people can speak and what they can say," Zuckerberg said.

But critics, including several Facebook employees, say the policy gives politicians free rein to lie and makes it easy to spread those lies.

Facebook workers posted an open letter with 250 signatures to the company's internal message board, urging Facebook to hold political ads to the same standards as other ads, including being fact-checked.

President Trump's political campaign criticized Twitter's move, saying the company is turning its back on a lot of money.

"This is yet another attempt to silence conservatives, since Twitter knows President Trump has the most sophisticated online program ever known," said Brad Parscale, Trump's political campaign manager.


While all the major Democratic candidates have spent money on Twitter advertising, two have cleared the $1 million mark, according to figures provided by the company

Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke and California Sen. Kamala Harris have each spent $1.1 million with Twitter. Their campaigns did not immediately return requests for comment on how Twitter's decision could affect their strategy.

NPR's Alina Selyukh and NPR's Sean McMinn contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit


A political message should be earned, not bought. That comes from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey via tweet, of course, in his announcement that Twitter will take the drastic step of no longer allowing political advertising. The decision comes as Facebook has been in the spotlight for refusing to hold politicians accountable for misleading or factually inaccurate ads. NPR's tech correspondent Shannon Bond has the story and joins us now.

Hey, Shannon.


CHANG: So what's going on here? I mean, how did Dorsey explain why Twitter would no longer be taking any political ads?

BOND: Yeah, so he says they're not going to take political ads anywhere in the world starting next month. And he says it's not about free speech or free expression. It's about whether politicians and campaigns should be allowed to pay to reach Twitter's hundreds of millions of users. Dorsey's argument here is that Internet ads are really different than other kinds of ads that we've seen before because the speed and the scale at which social media in particular lets misleading information spread and 'cause of the targeting that's allowed there, right? Those messages can end up in front of really susceptible people. And so he's also calling for more regulation of political ads that takes into account these differences and just how powerful the Internet is as a way to reach people.

CHANG: I mean, this is a really major decision at a time when there is this ongoing big conversation about the role of social media and political advertising.

BOND: That's right. Twitter's breaking, really, here with Facebook. I mean, most of all - I mean, that's - Facebook is sort of the elephant in the room here.

CHANG: Yeah.

BOND: There's this big debate going on about political ads, and Facebook in particular has taken this really hands-off approach. So the latest uproar in the past couple weeks about this was kicked off by this ad that the Trump campaign ran that contained false allegations about Joe Biden. And they ran that ad on Twitter, on Facebook, on YouTube.

The Biden campaign complained, but the platforms all said that the ad didn't violate their policies. And that really maps with what these tech companies have been saying recently. They don't want to regulate speech, particularly political speech. And it's mostly that they don't want to be accused of bias by deciding what's true and what's not true and kind of being that judge.

CHANG: I can't help but wonder - I mean, it can't be a coincidence that Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook was asked about all of this just last week when he was speaking at public events. How has Facebook been responding to all the scrutiny over political ads?

BOND: Yeah, you're right. Zuckerberg has been all over the place talking about this. He gave a speech at Georgetown University. He was at Capitol Hill. And he's been defending this policy. So just a reminder - Facebook has said it's not going to fact-check political ads, even though it fact-checks all other kinds of ads.

CHANG: Right.

BOND: And that's left the door open for politicians to lie. People have been testing Facebook. Elizabeth Warren ran a deliberately false ad. And, you know, after Zuckerberg gave that speech at Georgetown, Dorsey went on the attack. You know, he said that there was a major flaw in Zuckerberg's argument that Facebook's just, you know, promoting free speech here.

So in some ways, this isn't a super surprising change. And in the tweets, you know, today laying out this policy, Dorsey referred pretty clearly to Zuckerberg. You know, he said, you kind of can't say we don't want to spread misleading information, but it's OK if people want to pay us to spread misleading information. And he followed that up with a winking emoji. I think it's a pretty clear reference.

CHANG: Still, how might this decision by Twitter to not take any more political ads affect profits there?

BOND: It'll have some financial impact on Twitter. It's a popular place for politicians to advertise. And, you know, Twitter doesn't break out how much money it makes from political ads, but it says it's not a substantial portion of the total advertising sales. But it's not nothing. And, you know, the Trump campaign has already responded. And it said Twitter just walked away from hundreds of millions of dollars and called the decision a very dumb move. But ultimately, I think this means people are going to be asking, really, what it means for Facebook, the social media platform that's a lot bigger than Twitter and runs a lot more political ads. So the ball's now in Facebook's court. Are they going to follow suit?

CHANG: That's NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond.

Thanks so much, Shannon.

BOND: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.