Twitter announced wednesday that it will ban all forms of political advertising from November, raising questions about the role of social media platforms in the 2020 election, foreign media outlet The Verge reported. Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, explained that The announcement of Twitter’s policy hours before the company’s quarterly earnings conference call was based on the belief that the influence of political messages should be won, not bought.
It’s a controversial decision – especially for the 2020 presidential election – but it’s an attractive option after Facebook’s ongoing fact-checking policy disaster. What if the platform banned political advertising altogether?
Washington state has the nation’s strictest campaign finance laws, and after being threatened by court action last year, facebook and Google decided to ban political advertising in the state altogether, rather than identifying nuances about compliance. But the bans have not deterring local politicians. Instead, it has led to a entanglement of law enforcement imbalances and rules, making it a cautionary tale of what an improper advertising ban might mean for the 2020 campaign.
The first major test case for the new system comes from the Seattle City Council election, which ends in November. Entrepreneur Logan Bowers ran for city council on a cityist platform, but he ended up fighting the platform. Confusion about the ban, he said, “creates an unfair and unfair playing field and makes the situation worse in many ways.” “
“Some people have restricted advertising, while others don’t,” says Bowers. Not everyone is a lawyer. Bowers lost the primary on August 6th, winning about 7% of the vote.
The disorderly ban has not succeeded in getting Facebook out of a dispute with state officials. Earlier this month, washington state regulators filed more violations against Facebook, accusing the company of continuing to sell political ads. In a statement to The Stranger, a Facebook spokesman said the company was “working with PDC to resolve this issue” but that it had not made any changes to its policy so far.
But even if Facebook continues to fight state regulators, fines may not matter to the company’s bottom line. The initial settlement cost the company only $455,000, which was insignificant for a company that had just announced a $6 billion quarterly profit.
Commenting on the ban, a Facebook spokesman said: “We are committed to protecting the election on Facebook and have built tools to provide people with more information about the ads they see, including through Facebook’s Ad Library and Ad Library Report.” “
Crucially, Washington’s rules do not include any penalties for politicians who try to run ads. The rules simply instruct Facebook and other ad platforms to be more transparent about who is running the ads and how much they pay for them. The only real effect on a candidate is that sometimes ads are taken down – but usually not. As the campaign heats up, candidates continue to advertise on Facebook and add posts to their pages to appeal to potential voters. Many candidates don’t care about the rule and are willing to take advantage of Facebook’s reluctance to enforce it.
In April, The Stranger reported that Heidi Wills, a candidate for the Seattle City Council, was able to run a small number of ads on Facebook, while her opponent, Kate Martin, was banned from running any ads. The two candidates got into a row over the comments section of the Wills campaign on Facebook, with Martin pleading: “Can you stop paying to promote your Facebook posts and just follow the rules like the rest of us?” “
Wills replied, “I follow all the rules and welcome you to stop watching my campaign on the FB.” Wills entered the November election with about 21 percent of the vote. Martin was a big disappointment, finishing fifth in the August primary.
As campaigning heats up across the country, Facebook and other platforms are increasingly concerned that advertising policies may help certain candidates. When the Biden campaign said earlier this month that misleading ads about the Biden family’s relationship with the Ukrainian government appeared on the platform, Katie Harbath, Facebook’s director of global campaign public policy, said the platform would not be able to verify what politicians said in the ads.
“Our approach is based on Facebook’s freedom of speech, the fundamental belief of respect for the democratic process, and the fact that political discourse is already the most censored in mature democracies with a free media,” Harbath said.
At the same time, many attempts to regulate political advertising in Congress have been strongly resisted by Congress. The Honest Advertising Act, a bipartisan measure championed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mark Warner (D-VA), would force big tech companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Google to target campaigns on their platforms. Just as they do on radio, television and in print, this means they need to publicly disclose who pays for them. There are other privacy-specific measures that allow users to opt out of targeted advertising, such as Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)’s Mind Your Own Business Act. It’s hard to say whether the measures will be approved any time soon, but they are full of enforcement actions that the government can take to ensure that the platform applies its advertising policies in a balanced manner. Wyden’s bill, for example, would give the U.S. Federal Trade Commission the ability to fine companies that break the law on the first time, potentially preventing them from misbehavior.
But any laws and regulations must ultimately be implemented by the platform. And if the past had been any test case, these companies might not have worked too hard to implement it fairly. If Facebook’s Washington state ban has any guidance, the first question may be to inspire the platform to pay attention.
Ari Hoffman, a Republican, said he didn’t even think Facebook would try to enforce the ban. “The policy itself has been used by politicians, PACS, newspapers and anyone with special interests,” Hoffman said. The ban has not really worked. People just find a solution. I’ve found a solution, too. “