Twitter bans all political advertisements (Facebook hardest hit)

Twitter used to be the free-speech wing of the free-speech party but things have changed. Today, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced the company was banning all political ads. That includes candidate ads but also issue ads by third parties. He made the announcement in a Twitter thread explaning his reasons.

Several points about this. First, I wonder how effective this will be. Twitter is banning ads but not “grassroots” expressions of support for candidates. So what’s to stop some unscrupulous candidate from paying people to manufacture that grassroots support? So long as Twitter accounts remain anonymous to users, how do you know that Tweet praising Candidate A wasn’t put there by a member of his or her staff? You’re taking the direct ad money out of the equation but money can still be used to circumvent this ban and probably will be.

Second, this is a pretty direct broadside against Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg has been under pressure from AOC and many on the left for his stance on candidate ads. Just today, the NY Times published an opinion piece by Thomas Friedman saying Zuckerberg was “Breaking America.”

This is all about money for Zuckerberg, but he disguises his motives in some half-baked theory about freedom of the press — so half-baked that he couldn’t explain it even when he knew he would be asked about it by a congressional committee…

Just once I’d like to see Zuckerberg look into a camera and say: “I will take Facebook stock down to $1 if that is what it takes to ensure that we’re never again an engine for the perversion of democracy in any country, starting with my own. Facebook is not going to accept any more political ads until we have the resources to fact-check them all.”

I doubt he’ll do that, though, because his priorities are profits and power, and he seems quite ready to hurt American democracy to get them.

It’s probably a coincidence that on the day the Times published this piece asking Zuckerberg to say this, Dorsey came out and said it. But there’s no doubt Jack is aware of the pressure on Facebook and this is a way to improve the image of his brand, especially with the left. I wonder if Zuckerberg will have a sudden change of heart this weekend and decide to follow suit.

Third, only some of the Russian ads that prompted all of this concern about social media directly involved candidates. And obviously none of those involved legitimate groups. It was an astroturf campaign designed to tap into hot-button issues like race and religion. This ban, by itself, won’t prevent outside groups from seeking to whip up outrage on social media it will just make it harder for them to attract attention. They can still create fake accounts and present an image of public support or disapproval of their target.

Fourth and finally, all this does in ensure that candidates continue to pour hundreds of millions into television ads which are often extremely misleading. This doesn’t solve what many see as the negative influence of money and ads in politics, it just redirects it slightly.

Maybe this really is a principled decision by Dorsey, but it also happens to be a smart way to stick it to kick his main rival while he’s down and simultaneously get some attaboys from the left: