Twitter Tilts 2020 With an Ad Ban

By L. Brent Bozell III and Tim Graham | November 6, 2019 | 4:44am EST
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey arrives at the "Tech for Good" Summit in Paris on May 15, 2019. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey arrives at the "Tech for Good" Summit in Paris on May 15, 2019. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has announced that his platform will no longer accept political advertising. He tweeted: "We've made the decision to stop all political advertising on Twitter globally. We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought."

Let's stipulate from the outset that Twitter should have that right to do so, as should CBS, Comedy Central and the Disney Channel.

Let's also stipulate that Twitter's hundreds of millions of users can and should erupt against this policy.

What's behind Dorsey's decision?

He thinks being able to buy advertising is an unfair and undemocratic advantage: "While internet advertising is incredibly powerful and very effective for commercial advertisers, that power brings significant risks to politics, where it can be used to influence votes to affect the lives of millions."

Some observations:

1. So bloody what? Why can't, say, 10 men pool their resources and as one declare their support for a candidate who wears yellow ties? Why can't Citizens for Purple Ties respond in kind? This, my Twitter friends, is called democracy . That said, we also believe the public has the right to know exactly who is trying to influence what vote, and we applaud Facebook's efforts in that direction. Twitter could do the same — and let the public decide.

2. Why the sudden concern for the power of messaging to influence voters and affect millions? The so-called "news" media have been doing this for decades; no one in his right mind can deny the leftist press has spent the past three years trying to deny Donald Trump the presidency and then doing everything to remove President Trump from office. We've not heard a "boo" from Dorsey — or anyone else of his ilk condemning this. So, apparently, paid advertising: bad. Dishonest leftist propaganda cloaked as news: good.

3. To pretend Twitter is taking the moral high ground in banning political ads is disingenuous. Twitter sees the left-wing backlash Facebook has received for embracing free speech in advertising. It clearly agrees with Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the radical left and, with this ban, hopes to pressure Facebook into doing the same.

4. A key reason organizations and individuals buy ads is to promote an issue on which they cannot get news coverage by conventional means. Now that avenue has been cut off as well.

5. Twitter will respond by saying that the platform is just a community that converses. And yet we have seen how the social media giants have used their content policies to suppress conservative speech. By restricting ads, Twitter can further limit the ability of conservatives to get their message heard.

6. By including "issue ads" in this ban, Twitter has given itself the power to draw the lines on what is and is not political. Make no mistake; this is not an easily defined space. And with Twitter's history of liberal activism, conservatives should be very concerned. Candidate X will be automatically banned, but what leftist groups will wiggle into that paid space as a nonpartisan "public interest group"?

7. Broadcast television networks must, as a matter of law, carry federal candidates' ads. As a matter of policy, we think this regulation is obnoxious and should be removed. Twitter has an even greater reach — and, we believe, influence — than TV. So if the feds force broadcasters to carry candidates, why not apply the same rules to Twitter? They should drop the antiquated broadcast requirements.

In the final analysis, this is all about what Jack Dorsey and his leadership at Twitter want: control of their public conversation and the ability to decide what is and is not acceptable. Advertising diminishes that power. So advertising must go.

(L. Brent Bozell III is the president of the Media Research Center. Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center and executive editor of the blog


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