Twitter bans political ads globally, will allow limited use of “cause-based” ads


The big picture: Twitter has now laid out its new policy on political ads, which is going to prevent some advertisers from running them on the platform and provide a strict set of rules for all the others. The new policy will have the company police ads that have certain political ramifications, but there are exceptions for certain “cause-based” and news sites that cover politics in a neutral, factual manner.

Two weeks ago, Jack Dorsey made the public promise that Twitter would ban all political advertising moving forward, which is the opposite of what Facebook is doing. The decision will take effect on November 22, and the company has now published details about how the ban works and what exceptions can be made for advertisers.

The new policy follows a two-pronged approach in dealing with political content. The company now prohibits the paid promotion of content with clear references to political parties, candidates, appointed government officials, legislation, referendums, ballot measures, directives, and judicial outcomes.

In the US, that extends to PACs, super PACs, and political nonprofits, and the restriction will remain in place for as long as a politician is in office or campaigning for it. Essentially, all appeals for votes, asking for money, and other activities of political advocacy will be prohibited under the new policy.

Twitter also clarified that issue ads are defined as content that seeks to “educate, raise awareness, and/or call for people to take action in connection with civic engagement, economic growth, environmental stewardship, or social equity causes.”

These will also be restricted under the new rules, but advertisers can still run them as “cause-based ads,” as long as they don’t use microtargeting tools to reach people based on demographics, race, age, or precise location. They must also have to prove their ads don’t have the purpose of influencing political, judicial, or regulatory outcomes.

An important part of the new policy is that news publishers can get exempted from the new content rules as long as it meets certain criteria, such as having a minimum of 200,000 monthly unique visitors in the US and covering factual news as opposed to endorsements or opinion editorials. That doesn’t mean the site can’t publish any such content, but it just won’t be able to promote it on Twitter.

This should clear out some of the concerns expressed by critics who didn’t expect a nuanced policy. That said, the most important thing is for Twitter to show it can properly enforce the new rules on a consistent basis. The company acknowledges that it has its work cut out for itself as it decided to take the risk of policing political ads.

It’s likely the new policy will lead to more shots being fired by politicians who think the Twitter operates under a company-wide political bias. The social giant believes “political messaging should earn its reach,” as opposed to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg who frequently uses the excuse of “freedom of speech” to justify that political ads have a place on his platform. If you go by the accounts of former Facebook executives, Facebook simply can’t stay out of politics or it will have a much harder time making money.

In the meantime, others like Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales are launching their own alternatives to Twitter and Facebook, who aim to grow on the basis of voluntary user funding as opposed to running ads and designing platforms around getting people to direct most of their attention to them.


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