Social media platform Twitter has released a new set of policies for “issue ads” which include political ads and advertisements that attempt to influence legislation. The company says news publishers that meet “specific criteria” will be able to apply for an “exemption” from the policy.
Twitter has attempted to focus on political issues in recent months, shortly after CEO Jack Dorsey said that “election integrity” was Twitter’s key focus this year. So far, the company has released political ad guidelines and launched an Ads Transparency Center which gives Twitter users more information about advertisers using Twitter’s platform.
The company has now announced a new set of policies around “issue ads.” According to a blog post, issue ads are defined as:
- Ads that refer to an election or a clearly identified candidate, or
- Ads that advocate for legislative issues of national importance
Twitter further described which ads may fall into this category:
Examples of legislative issues of national importance include topics such as abortion, civil rights, climate change, guns, healthcare, immigration, national security, social security, taxes, and trade. These are the top-level issues we are considering under this policy, and we expect this list to evolve over time.
Twitter stated that certain news publications will be exempt from this new policy, but seemed to imply that some publishers may be subject to the new rules:
The intention of this policy is to provide the public with greater transparency into ads that seek to influence people’s stance on issues that may influence election outcomes. We don’t believe that news organizations running ads on Twitter that report on these issues, rather than advocate for or against them, should be subject to this policy.
Twitter has had an uneasy relationship with political ads in the past, only recently Republican Congressional Candidate Elizabeth Heng found her campaign ad censored from Twitter’s advertising program.
Shortly after Facebook came under fire for refusing to allow Republican Congressional candidate Elizabeth Heng to advertise her campaign ad on their platform, Twitter made the same decision. Facebook blocked the ad, which shared the story of Heng’s family being forced to flee Cambodia for the U.S., claiming that the Facebook couldn’t allow videos that contained “shocking, disrespectful, or sensational” imagery on their advertising platform. The ad was eventually approved with a Facebook spokesperson stating: “Upon further review, it is clear the video contains historical imagery relevant to the candidate’s story. We have since approved the ad and it is now running on Facebook.” A decision Twitter apparently disagrees with.
Twitter has blacklisted the campaign ad, according to Heng. The Heng campaign stated in a press release: “In recent attempts to advertise Elizabeth Heng’s campaign video on Twitter, the campaign has received a message from the company stating that upon review, the ad is ‘ineligible to participate in the Twitter Ads program at this time based on our Inappropriate Content policy.’ Twitter defined inappropriate content as ‘that which is offensive, vulgar, or obscene.’”
Twitter previously blocked a campaign ad for Rep. Marsha Blackburn (T-TN) that had a pro-life theme, calling the ad “inflammatory.”
Similarly, Twitter has been found in the past to block pro-life ads on the platform but allow pro-abortion groups such as Planned Parenthood to advertise freely:
— Lila Rose (@LilaGraceRose) June 27, 2017
The ultimate goal of any policy on issues advertising for the Twitter platform should center on transparency both to advertisers and users of the platform, so they can decide for themselves what bias is coming into play as part of Twitter’s decisionmaking process.