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It is harder to ban political ads on Twitter than it sounds

If you've ever wondered about the value of multiple social networks competing to develop the best products and policies, Wednesday has given us a clear example.

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Facebook has now been in a controversy for three weeks about whether (and how) it should regulate political ads, and the lies that those ads will inevitably sometimes contain. Many people (including some Facebook employees) have proposed ideas, including the complete prohibition of political ads from the platform.

Today Jack Dorsey adopted their suggestion – for Twitter. In a well-considered discussion, Dorsey argued for the banning of both issue ads and campaign ads. In particular, he has addressed two things that make social advertising unique: their speed and the way they can target small niche communities on a large scale.

"Political internet advertisements are a whole new challenge for social discourse," Dorsey tweeted. machine learning-based optimization of messages and micro targeting, uncontrolled misleading information and deep counterfeiting. All with increasing speed, refinement and overwhelming scale. "

Twitter was not the first platform to ban political advertisements. It was preceded by LinkedIn, Pinterest and TikTok, among others. Each of those sites calculated that whatever benefits the politicians deserve to reach voters, they outweigh the disadvantages.

These services are all important in their own way. But none of them is a true hotbed for political commentary. Twitter, on the other hand, is the beating heart of political discourse in the United States, and was flooded by more than 50,000 Russian accounts in 2016 as part of that country's interference in the US presidential election.

Some have noted that Twitter had little to lose when it came to eliminating political advertisements makes little income with them – less than $ 3 million. Others noted that political advertisements on Twitter never proved to be particularly effective in influencing voters, raising questions about whether a ban on them would have a practical effect on the election.

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Then there was the timing of the announcement, which came just like Mark Zuckerberg – who was mocking Twitter's relatively small investment in platform integrity attempts in the audio we published this month – was about to start Facebook's quarterly call.

Yet the response is On Twitter was very positive. (This was perhaps the first day it was safe for Dorsey to check his listings in a few years.) Several prominent Democrats praised the move, including Joe Biden, Senator Mark Warner and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Yael Eisenstat, who once led the Facebook election integrity team for political advertising, tweeted:

One person who is not happy with Twitter's new policy is Brad Parscale, the brains behind President Trump & # 39; s successful digital advertising strategy in 2016. Parscale said the move would "keep the conservatives silent."

"Twitter just ran away from hundreds of millions of dollars in potential income, a very stupid decision for their shareholders," Parscale said in a statement. "Will Twitter also stop ads from biased liberal media that will now work uncontrolled if they buy obvious political content that is meant to attack Republicans? This is another attempt to silence conservatives, as Twitter knows that President Trump has known the most advanced online program ever. "

(Again, based on Twitter's own figures, it runs out of up to $ 3 million.)

A more thoughtful criticism came from Jessica Alter, which leads a community for progressive and centrist campaigns. She argued that banning political ads would penalize lesser-known and non-traditional candidates by making it harder to break through.

And there are indications that social media ads help unknown candidates stand out – see this document of political scientists who discovered that Facebook ads led many candidate candidates to hold their first advertising campaigns. (They also discovered that Facebook ads were mostly like that less negative than TV ads.)

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Alter and others claimed that the money that was once spent on political ads on Twitter would simply go dark, with candidates secretly paying influencers to promote them through (still allowed) organic tweets.

That seems likely enough. For me, enforcement is the biggest problem with this and any other Twitter policy. Twitter has a long history of announcing changes and then has a lot of trouble implementing, and banning every touch of politics from the advertising platform will suit them.

We know this because it gives Facebook attacks. The company requires political advertisers to register and every time it asks some border advertisers to verify their name and location – for example, a recycling program or a public health campaign for PReP – advertisers cry that they have been banned unjustly. Imagine how hard they will cry when they actually to be prohibited, instead of simply being asked to fill in some paperwork.

I expect that Twitter will have a hard time distinguishing between what is a "problem ad" and what is not. Expect to see many false positives and many false negatives. And depending on who is affected, and how often, you can even expect Congress hearings on it.

Zuckerberg, during the profit call, stuck his heels inside and said the company would continue to sell political advertisements and not (largely) control them. "I believe the better approach is to work on more transparency," he said. "Advertisements on Facebook are already more transparent than anywhere else."

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At a certain level, the disagreement between Zuckerberg and Dorsey is just philosophical. Some people may want to allow more speech, regardless of the consequences. Others will think that they can build a safer community with less. One reason to encourage competition between technology platforms is to offer us choices.

At the same time, this is also an ongoing political struggle and Zuckerberg may eventually have to reconsider his approach. Not so much because of the pressure from his employees – only about 250 of them have signed that letter, from a global base of 35,000 – but because of the pressure from politicians and the public.

The relevant test case here is Adriel Hampton, a San Francisco activist and a marketing firm who registered for the governor of California this week. While Donie O & Sullivan reports as CNN, Hampton had only one goal: "Hampton told CNN Business that he will use his new candidate status to place fake ads on Facebook about President Trump, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other Facebook … His goal is to force Facebook to stop allowing politicians to display fake ads. "

According to the policy formulated this month, Facebook should leave these ads in the name of freedom of expression and political neutrality. But then Facebook surprised me at the end of Tuesday by saying it would stop allowing politicians to display fake ads – only for one politician.

Adriel Hampton.

"This person has made it clear that he has registered as a candidate to circumvent our policy, so his content, including advertisements, continues to be eligible for third-party verification of facts," a Facebook spokesperson said in an email to Recode.

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So if you keep track of your score, you can now lie in political ads on Facebook unless you admit that you're lying. I think. I asked Facebook if someone would guide me through their logic here today, but I didn't hear it again.

It remains to be seen whether Twitter can deliver on the promise it has made to the public today. But in some important neighborhoods it seems to have won a moral victory over his old rival. For yesterday, regardless of what you thought about Facebook's policy on political ads, at least you had to admit that the position of the company was coherent. From Tuesday evening that was no longer the case.

The ratio

Today in news that can influence the public perception of the major technological platforms.

Popular: Twitter & # 39; s ad ban has given the company the best PR in months, at least outside the Trump campaign.

Trending down: TapTok color users say they are underrepresented on the app's For You page. They say the most popular faces of the app are consistently white.

ruling

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Mark Zuckerberg defended the acquisition of Facebook Instagram amid the current American antitrust probe. The CEO told investors that the photo sharing app was not a real competitor in 2012 and that it only grew to become what it became today due to the sources of Facebook. David McLaughlin at Bloomberg has more:

The acquisition of Instagram, which now has 1 billion monthly active users, is seen by some as a deal that should not have been allowed by the FTC because Instagram posed a real threat to Facebook's dominance on social media. Facebook will have to show that it wasn't. That is the argument that Zuckerberg set out on the profit call. Instagram had only 30 million users and many other competitors at the time, he said.

The FTC knew this at the time, Zuckerberg said.

“I set a goal that we hoped Instagram could reach 100 million people someday, and I know that today seems strange compared to how well done it is, but remember that many of the other services that Instagram colleague & # 39 ; s were growing rapidly and at that time "no longer exist," he said. "The FTC already had this context when they made this decision in 2012."

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said he is definitely not breaking up Facebook is the right way to fix Big Tech, on the stage of a Bloomberg event. "It is too early to talk about the remedy if you have not yet identified the problem," he added.

Also: A guide for the biggest players in the antitrust battle, including what they have done in the past and what they hope to get out of the battle to take Big Tech apart.

Instagram head Adam Mosseri said he is worried Facebook & # 39; s possibility to navigate the 2020 elections. Speaking of the Bill Simmons Podcast, the director acknowledged that the company still has a long way to go to defend itself against people who want to abuse the platform. (Salvador Rodriguez / CNBC)

Facebook agreed to pay a $ 644,000 fine to end a British privacy probe after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The company had originally tried to appeal the fine, but decided to settle the case without acknowledgment of debt. (Stephanie Bodoni / Bloomberg)

Evelyn Douek, a Ph.D. student at Harvard Law School who often writes on content management issues, states Facebook regulate political advertisements on the platform. She is also "cautiously optimistic" about the company's Oversight Board. (Mathew Ingram and Evelyn Douek / Columbia Journalism Review)

Russia has massively tested new disinformation tactics Facebook campaigns in parts of Africa, as part of an evolution of its manipulation techniques prior to the 2020 US elections. Facebook removed three Russian-supported influence networks focused on Mozambique, Cameroon, Sudan and Libya. (Davey Alba and Sheera Frenkel / The New York Times)

Lithuanians use software developed in collaboration with Google to fight back against fake news – a growing problem in a country besieged by Russian propaganda. The tool keeps track of disinformation campaigns and tries to determine their point of origin. (The economist)

Industry

⭐ A Facebook Content moderation supplier leaves the company after two Verge research into working conditions at the company. The company hired thousands of moderators around the world to remove hate speech and terrorism from platforms such as Facebook, Googleand twitter, says (me!) Casey Newton:

In February, The edge published a study of working conditions on the site of the company in Phoenix. Moderators described on the site were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome after a daily attack of graphic and disturbing images. Others said they had come to embrace marginal points of view after having regularly seen videos about conspiracy theories. Several employees report fear of their safety after being threatened by colleagues.

A follow-up report in February focused on a site in Tampa, FL, where moderators broke their confidentiality agreements to describe a pattern of abuse by managers. She described working in offices that were often filthy and where cases of sexual harassment had resulted in multiple complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The Phoenix and Tampa sites will both close after March 1, Facebook said The edge in a statement. "Cognizant and Facebook strive for a smooth transition during this period of change," said a Facebook spokesperson.

Facebook had a better-than-expected quarter, with a daily active user base that grew by 9 percent to 1.62 billion and a revenue of 17.7 billion. Mark Zuckerberg seized the profit call as an opportunity to defend the company's policy on political ads. (Nick Statt / The edge)

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If TapTokAs growth slows, the company faces a challenger in the form of a Chinese app for sharing video & # 39; s in short form, called Likee. Launched two years ago, Likee now has 81 million monthly users, making it the second most popular video sharing app after TikTok. (Yunan Zhang / The information)

YouTuber Lindsay Ellis fights a copyright claim from Universal Music Group (UMG) which, according to her, endangered one of her brand sponsorship. Ellis claims that it is an "extremely clear example of reasonable use" that YouTube chooses to ignore. (Amanda Perelli / Business Insider)

YouTube creators may have cracked the company's revenue-generating algorithm, by reverse engineering the P-score used to determine which video & # 39; s get access to high-quality advertising opportunities. The community says they now have evidence that the platform gives family-friendly videos & # 39; s of regular stores priority over the work of makers. (Chris Stokel-Walker / FFWD)

The average time that children spend watching online videos, usually on YouTube, has doubled in 4 years. New research from the non-profit Common Sense Media says it has been going on for about an hour a day. (Rachel Siegel / The Washington Post)

And finally…

Thanks to Ben Collins for pointing out the very funny reaction of Russian state media to Twitter's ban on political advertisements.

Talk to us

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Send us tips, comments, questions and your favorite answers to the Dorsey tweet: casey@theverge.com and zoe@theverge.com.