As Facebook continues to take heat for its stance on political advertisements (it’s cool if politicians put out false information), Twitter is striking while the iron is hot. In a statement today, CEO Jack Dorsey announced that Twitter is banning all political ads on its platform worldwide.
“We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought,” he said, referring to the organic reach someone gets when they post something that goes viral because people like it (or hate it, or … you know what I mean). Ads, which on social platforms resemble normal posts that an advertiser pays to slip into a user’s feed, get paid reach. On Facebook, pretty much all reach for posts that aren’t from an individual user is paid.
“A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet,” Dorsey continued. “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.” Dorsey is, to put it another way, letting political ideas compete unadorned in the marketplace of ideas.
He also took shots at Facebook and its hands-off policy regarding political ads.
There is … a lot to unpack here. The implication of this, the winking emoji in particular, posits that Facebook is giving implicit permission to politicians to lie in the ads they pay for and that Facebook reaps the benefit. If I’m being honest, that’s probably giving Facebook too much credit. It’s a company whose policies and procedures are often more incompetent than underhanded. Plus, in an earnings call today, Mark Zuckerberg projected that political ads will account for less than 0.5 percent of all of Facebook’s revenue in the coming year.
To reiterate what I wrote earlier this week, part of what allowed Twitter to make this decision is that it treats all tweets more or less equally, and they all get the same amount of initial exposure. Facebook, on the other hand, treats posts from individual-user accounts (friends and family) and pages (brands) differently. The brands receive far less exposure, unless they pay for it.
The consequences of this decision are still a large unknown. Facebook is an exponentially more important advertising tool, so maybe not much will change; Zuckerberg himself stated its policy isn’t going to change anytime soon. But Dorsey’s decision might lead to more surreptitious forms of manipulation on Twitter — bought followers, botnets, artificially inflated post reach. By getting rid of the legitimate advertising option, Twitter clients are left with only the illegitimate ones.
On its own, though, Dorsey’s decision makes Twitter look like the more competent and thoughtful social-media platform compared with Facebook. Jack Dorsey! Making a hard-line decision about what happens on his platform! There’s a first time for everything.