Twitter's political advertising ban raises a major problem: what exactly is a & # 39; problem & # 39 ;?

Twitter is finally doing something popular: banning political ads. Yesterday, CEO Jack Dorsey announced that his company no longer allowed sponsored tweets for political campaigns. It also prohibits the much wider category & # 39; problems & # 39; ads, with some exceptions. "This is not about free speech. This is about paying for reach," Dorsey said. "Paying to increase the reach of political expression has important consequences that today's democratic infrastructure may not be prepared for."


The decision was widely supported, according to an investigation from the CivicScience Consumer Polling Group. But it also led to immediate debate, confusion and uncertainty – because Twitter is trying to draw hard policies around the vague and sometimes all-embracing domain of politics.

Twitter will not explain its new policy until 15 November. But the company is already regulating political advertisements, so it doesn't start all over again. Mid 2018, Twitter has established policies for both direct political campaigns and "publishing ads" in the United States. Account holders must request certification, which allows Twitter to verify their identity, and their promoted tweets are specially marked – either with the name of a campaign or with the general "issue" label.

Representation of interests includes two categories: "advertisements referring to an election or a clearly identified candidate" and "advertisements advocating legislative issues of national importance." Twitter identifies "abortion, health care, weapons, climate change, immigration and (and) taxes" as examples of legislative issues, although that is not an exhaustive list.

twitter keeps a list of certified & # 39; issuing advertisers & # 39; accounts and their campaigns – that offer a little more insight into what the new policy could cover. It includes well-known interest groups such as Planned Parenthood Action and FreedomWorks, as well as the lobby departments of large companies such as Verizon. You will also find government accounts that push tweets about citizen participation – such as the New Jersey Department of State encourage people to complete the census.

Twitter policy head Vijaya Gadde repeated the current definition when OneZero reporter Will Oremus asked what a "problem" would be. But she noted that "we are going through the details now and we will provide more details about the final definition" in November. Dorsey has already confirmed that Twitter efforts to & # 39; get out of the mood & # 39; will allow – an exception on Facebook previously established in France, where most political advertisements have already been banned. Gadde explained that the final rules may have other exceptions, but they will be "well defined" and rare.

There is already a fight brewing over one big potential carveout: news stores. When Twitter introduced its certification rules last year, it exempted news organizations that met certain standards, reasoning that they "report on these issues instead of arguing for them or against them." Eligible outlets must have 200,000 monthly visitors and provide information about their editors, they cannot consist primarily of user-generated content and they cannot be & # 39; committed to advocating a single problem & # 39 ;


President Trump's re-election campaign manager, Brad Parscale, wondered if this policy would be continued. Parscale claimed that Twitter's decision was intended to censor conservatives, suggesting that the company would still allow "biased liberal media" to run "uncontrolled."

Twitter has not confirmed whether it prohibits “problem-directed” advertisements from media channels; said a spokesperson The edge that "we know more details" on November 15. News organizations are hugely present on Twitter, so banning these ads would be a huge deal. It would be effective for many sites to advertise their biggest stories, especially as the 2020 elections get closer. At the same time, Twitter's current language, which focuses on impartiality, makes it vulnerable to attack – and it highlights one of the key issues with Twitter's decision.

It is almost impossible to discuss many political issues without implicitly choosing a side. For example, when news organizations describe climate change as an emergency, they choose American politicians who deny that it exists. Defining a & # 39; problem & # 39; has also appeared messy outside of the news media. Reportedly a bookstore with a Facebook page had trouble advertising for an event with author Ijeoma Oluo and her book So you want to talk about racing, because it was tagged as politics. Facebook and Google completely prohibit political ads in Washington, thanks to the complex legislation for campaign financing. The result was an inconsistently enforced policy that raged several candidates.

And Twitter – like any major social media platform – has to contend with all kinds of moderation. It has promised to moderate political figures that break its rules, but rarely enforce that policy. A well-intentioned ban on hate symbols led Twitter to suspend an academic for promote his book about hate groups. Even the best written policy is difficult to apply to a site with hundreds of millions of users.

We do not know how much Twitter's advertising ban matters. Organizations can still use shady tactics, such as buying followers to increase their reach. Wrong information can easily spread through viral non-promoted tweets. And the main purpose of Twitter is perhaps just to make its competing Facebook look bad. Dorsey announced the news just before Facebook's quarterly figures, after a week of furious debate about whether Facebook would ban or monitor political ads. (The answer is & # 39; no & # 39; on both counts.) But while it's symbolic, Twitter's policy might still set the tone for how & # 39; reasonable & # 39; political content moderation looks like – or prove that defining politics is a lot harder than it seems.