The political strategies of Facebook and Twitter

January 22, 2020

 

In October, the CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, announced political ads would no longer be permitted on the platform. In a series of tweets, Dorsey detailed the new policy along with the reasoning behind this sudden change. Even “hot button” topics that have been branded as political, such as climate change, are prohibited to be used in an advertisement on the platform. Strikingly, even ads spreading science-backed information are nevertheless not permitted under this system. It is not surprising that this controversial and broad policy has been met with backlash. 

 

Lizz Winstead, the founder of Abortion Access Front, believes non-profits are hit hard by this new policy stating that Twitter has “killed our nonprofit’s ability to pay for ads that promote our shows, rallies, and actions.” When she tried to apply to be able to run ads, she was denied because her personal Twitter had profanity on it. The personal ban on political ads extends to any brand with any association with her. This leads to the ban spreading to Abortion Access Front, even though Twitter only took issue with her personal account.

 

Winstead also offers a unique perspective on how this policy is detrimental to non-profits. Ads can no longer target a specific zip-code, meaning that in the case of Abortion Access Front they cannot target people with limited access to abortion clinics and care facilities. Targeting certain communities can help those that lack education in certain political areas. However, Twitter’s counter-argument is that regional targeting ads are often used to promote false information as well. Using data gathered through social media, ads can be targeted to fit your political bias. This makes the acceptance of information easier without the need to fact check.  

 

The Twitter ban has been met with criticism from people such as Jessica Alter, founder of the self-proclaimed progressive group Tech For Campaign. Alter claims that this ban only helps those who “can pay for less cost-effective forms of media.” Lesser-known candidates will have yet another hurdle to jump. They will no longer be able to break through the barriers of a new candidacy with a wide-reaching ad on a social media platform. Instead, they will have to resort to more expensive advertising such as through television or newspapers. Natasha Lomas, a reporter for the online newspaper TechCrunch, contrasted it with the no-fact check policy of Facebook. Lomas asserts that Facebook’s policy is “blame-shifting,” later saying that Twitter’s and Facebook’s policies are forms of “attention-manipulation.” They both make broad and vague policies in order to get clicks to bring more people to their respective platforms.

 

Facebook will no longer fact-check political ads unless they can lead to harm, violence, or voter suppression. This means that political lies can be easily perpetrated on a mass scale as long as someone is fiscally capable of doing so. This can lead to a vast amount of misinformation spread on the platform relatively quickly.

 

Twitter and Facebook have taken to two opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to allowing political ads. But from the outside, it seems that the platforms are doing this for ease on themselves. Facebook no longer has to do research to fact-check certain ads and Twitter’s ban prevents them from having to monitor ads. These social media platforms are going about the problem wrong. Both offer suppression of positive and educational information. Facebook can be overrun with unscientific data and false claims, while those on Twitter are less likely to see the information that can directly affect them. 

 

Instead of attempting to take the easy way out, platforms should be helping to spread valuable information. Social-media allows for bite-sized pieces of information to be consumed quickly. The platforms are available to spread facts and knowledge, yet they are cowering for the sake of clicks and operating expenses. Yes, social media does have a great potential to be abused, but the positive impact of some political ads should not be minimized or abolished because of misuse.

 

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