Twitter's political ads ban has an accurate definition of political but campaign groups won't like it (eventually)


Tags: Tech Politics

Twitter’s decision to ban political ads by the end of November 1 could lead to some bad situations for campaign groups, charities, and NGOs.

As well as ads run by politicians, candidates, or ads in support of politicians, Twitter is also banning “issue ads”.

They’re defining issue ads as “ads that advocate for or against legislative issues of national importance (such as: climate change, healthcare, immigration, national security, taxes)“. 2 3

It remains to be seen how totally and equally Twitter will enforce the policy. Twitter does have a track record of announcing content policies and failing to enforce them.

But in case it’s not obvious, this ban will cover ads by small campaigns, campaigns we like, and ads about issues that we think are not politically contentious. It won’t just cover misinformation in ads by politicians or campaigns that we don’t like!

Twitter has a broad definition of “political”. They don’t just mean politicians and political parties. And that’s right. Politics and political outcomes are affected by all sorts of actors, not just politicians.

As an aside, my definition is even broader — the content of every tweet and the practice of tweeting itself is “political”. 4 But that’s not the popular definition of “political” and Twitter obviously doesn’t want to ban every tweet!

Twitter probably thinks it’s making life easier for itself by saying no “political” ads and they probably think they’ve already defined “political”. That might be true but this will still get really complicated.

A climate campaign group will try to run an ad and will be told they can’t. There will be uproar because climate campaigners will say that the science isn’t political. This has already happened with registering to run “political” Facebook ads.

And other groups will just be upset that they can’t use Twitter ads to push back against messages they don’t like that get free advertising on TV/Radio etc.

A few other questions…

  1. How does a campaign group know when their issue has reached national importance and should expect their ads not to be allowed?
  2. How does Twitter know when an issue has crossed that threshold? How nationally important is too nationally important?
  3. How broadly is Twitter defining ‘national security’ and ‘taxes’?