Twitter to restrict, but not outright ban, issue ads

Twitter to restrict, but not outright ban, issue ads
© Getty

Twitter on Friday announced that it is going to restrict, but not outright ban, advertisements that raise awareness about particular issues like climate change and abortion as part of a broader effort to rein in political advertisements.

The social media platform, which has about 330 million monthly active users and raked in an ad revenue of $2.61 billion last year, said it is placing significant limitations around advertisements that touch on topics like "environmental stewardship" or "social equity causes." Twitter will no longer allow the groups and individuals placing those "cause-based" ads to target particular demographic groups or zip codes. 

And Twitter will do what its CEO Jack Dorsey announced earlier this month: the platform will completely ban all advertisements from or about politicians, political candidates, particular pieces of legislation, specific regulations, ballot measures, elections or court cases. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Twitter's new pared-down political ads policy, which the company shared for the first time on Friday, will go into effect next week.

"We believe ... political reach should be earned and not bought," Del Harvey, Twitter's vice president of trust and safety, said on a call with reporters. "But the other thing that we considered is, while advertising should not be used to drive political, legislative or regulatory outcomes, there’s certain cause-based advertising that can facilitate conversation about important topics." 

Twitter is walking a fine line as it seeks to ban all advertising aimed at achieving specific political outcomes, while allowing advocacy groups and individuals to pay to raise awareness around issues like the economy, health care and climate change.

The company's new policy specifies that for-profit organizations, like large corporations, will not be allowed to run ads with the "primary goal" of pushing for particular political outcomes. For example, a company like Exxon will be allowed to continue running ads about carbon dioxide, as it currently does, but it will not be allowed to run ads pushing for particular bills.

Political action committees and social welfare organizations registered as 501(c)(4)s will not be allowed to run ads at all, alongside candidates and government officials. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Twitter's Dorsey first announced the political ads ban two weeks ago amid controversy over Facebook's policy allowing politicians to publish misinformation in political ads. While Facebook launched a charm offensive to defend the policy as an effort to promote free expression online, Dorsey announced Twitter would ban those ads entirely, claiming his company is against "paying for reach" when it comes to political messaging.

On the Friday call, officials made it clear that Twitter does not have a specific policy barring misinformation in advertisements, including cause-related ads. But Harvey said Twitter will no longer allow "super siloed, hidden targeting" on those sensitive topics.

Vijaya Gadde, Twitter's head of legal, policy and trust and safety, emphasized that the Twitter policy is subject to change and adaptation over time.

"We’re moving really quickly here because we think the timing is urgent and we want to make sure were addressing the risk we see in upcoming elections as quickly as possible," Gadde said. "We’ll also be rolling out more details over time."