Social media: Should political ads be banned?
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s decision to ban political advertising on his platform is “one small step by @jack, one giant leap for tweetkind,” said Kara Swisher in The New York Times. Social media has become a “cesspool” of lies leveraged by dishonest politicians and foreign intelligence services to manipulate and polarize the U.S. electorate, as Russia did during the 2016 presidential campaign. Dorsey acknowledged that paid ads on social media can rapidly microtarget misleading information to voters on a massive scale—a powerful tool that “today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle.” So rather than try to police these paid messages, he’s banning them from his site. It was “a bold and epic poke” at Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who on the same day said he’d continue to accept paid political ads even if they contained outright lies.
Actually, Facebook’s position is “not unreasonable,” said Siva Vaidhyanathan, also in The New York Times. It would be impossible for a global platform with 2.8 billion users “posting in more than 100 languages” to police the truth of political ads, whose claims are inherently subjective. Is it true or false that President Trump has created 500,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs, as he claimed in a recent TV ad? Does Trump’s total include jobs lost because of his policies? As for banning political ads outright, how does Facebook define “political”? Is an ExxonMobil ad political? What about one from a liberal citizens’ group urging people to vote? And there’s the money to consider, said Laura Forman in The Wall Street Journal. Zuckerberg claims that “ads from politicians” will represent only 0.5 percent of total revenue in 2020, equating to about $423 million. But ads from politicians comprise only a slice of the $2.8 billion in expected U.S. digital political ad spending next year. No CEO wants to turn down that kind of revenue.
Twitter’s ad ban “is already a mess,” said Will Oremus in OneZero.Medium.com. Along with campaign ads, the company says it will prohibit “issue ads” pertaining to politicized topics like climate change, taxes, health care, immigration, and national security. But what about ads selling SUVs, beef, or “single-family homes in sprawling suburban neighborhoods?” Those, too, have political import. In the end, Twitter’s ban will actually tilt the playing field in favor of “capitalism and consumerism,” and against liberal activists challenging the status quo.