Twitter’s rules for political advertising will include new restrictions on micro-targeting, a move that will increase pressure on Facebook, the company announced on Friday.
The policy rollout follows Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s surprise announcement on 30 October that the company would ban all political advertising due to a belief that “political message reach should be earned, not bought”. The new rules will go into effect on 22 November.
“Advertising that uses micro-targeting presents new challenges that are not yet fully understood,” said Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s head of legal, policy and trust and safety, on a conference call with reporters on Friday. “It’s a big change for us as a company, but one we believe is going to make our service and hopefully political outcomes around the world better.”
Micro-targeting on Facebook is significantly more advanced – and more lucrative – than it is on Twitter. Facebook’s vast trove of data about its billions of users has allowed it to offer advertisers an incredibly powerful machine for targeting precise segments of a population with messages tailored to their personal characteristics.
Facebook has faced significant criticism over its political ads policies in recent months, and the idea of placing restrictions on micro-targeting has gained popularity, including with Ellen Weintraub, the chair of the Federal Election Commission. Such rules could have significant implications for Facebook’s business. Twitter’s vice-president of trust and safety, Del Harvey, said on Friday that the company did not expect material changes to its fourth-quarter revenues based on the new restrictions.
Under Twitter’s new policy, candidates for political office, political parties and elected or appointed government officials will be entirely barred from running ads of any kind. In the United States, political action committees, Super Pacs and advocacy not-for-profits knew as 501(c)(4)s will also be banned from any advertising.
All users will be banned from running ads that reference candidates, parties, officials, elections, referendums, ballot measures, legislation, regulation or judicial outcomes. The sole exception to this rule will be news publishers, provided they meet Twitter’s standards for certification as a news outlet. News outlets will be allowed to promote reporting about political issues, but will not be allowed to advertise explicit advocacy journalism, such as an editorial board endorsement of a political candidate.
The new policy does carve out an exception for ads by non-political figures or organizations to advocate for political or social causes. This appears designed to allay concerns raised by the US presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren and others that the new rules would silence climate change activists while giving free rein to fossil fuel companies.
These “cause-based” ads can address political issues such as the environment, economy or “social equity” as long as they do not directly advocate for or against legislative, electoral, regulatory or judicial outcomes. These issue ads will be subject to Twitter’s new restrictions on micro-targeting, however, and can only be aimed at broad geographies or non-political keywords or interests. Advertisers will not be able to target their ads toward other, more personal characteristics, such as race, gender or political affiliation. “Cause-based advertising has value and can help drive public conversation around important topics, but we still don’t think it should be used with the goal of driving political legislative outcomes,” said Harvey.
Twitter will allow for-profit organizations to run cause-based ads if they are related to an organization’s values or principles, as long as the ad does not have the “primary goal” of influencing political, judicial, legislative or regulatory outcomes.
The company is not introducing an explicit ban on false statements in these issue-based ads – an area that has sparked considerable debate after Facebook decided to allow politicians to promote false information in ads.
“One of the benefits of Twitter being a public platform is that you can be held accountable for what you say,” said Harvey. “Part of what we’re trying to do with the limits on targeting is to prevent those super-siloed arguments.”