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UK General Election: Twitter bans political ads in direct challenge to Facebook

Twitter has announced it is banning political advertisements, globally, in time for the UK general election on December 12.

In a lengthy thread on Wednesday evening, the social network’s founder and CEO Jack Dorsey said that from November 22, the platform will not accept advertisements for candidates or from those representing political issues.

In what will be seen as a direct response to the criticism aimed at Facebook in recent weeks, Dorsey says the company believes “political reach should be earned, not bought.”

No stranger to criticism himself over Twitter’s decision not to sanction Donald Trump’s continual flouting of Twitter’s content policies, as well as its inability to halt the Russian bot farms, Dorsey says the highly-optimised targeting of political messages risks compromising the democratic choices made by voters.

Dorsey wrote: “A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet. Paying for reach removes that decision, forcing highly optimized and targeted political messages on people. We believe this decision should not be compromised by money.”

In a subsequent tweet, he added: “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.”

While the decision will affect the ability of candidates in the UK to target voters via Twitter, the company’s decision is more likely to be grounded in a desire to avoid the likely bloodbath of the 2020 election season in the United States, where Trump will be seeking re-election.

Dorsey says other advancements like micro-targeting, deep-fakes, machine learning, AI and unchecked misinformation all threaten civic discourse. As such, it would not be able to maintain credibility in fighting those threats if it continued to accepted money to force political ads upon the public.

He finished the thread with what could be seen as a direct challenge to Facebook to follow suit.

He added: “We’re well aware we‘re a small part of a much larger political advertising ecosystem. Some might argue our actions today could favor incumbents. But we have witnessed many social movements reach massive scale without any political advertising. I trust this will only grow.”

Twitter is promising to publish its full policy on November 15.

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