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Twitter Bans Political Ads


Jack Dorsey says his company has had enough of political ads. Dorsey is the CEO of Twitter. And in a post on Twitter, he explains why the company will no longer accept that advertising. Here is part of what he writes - quote, "the Internet political ads present entirely new challenges to civic discourse - machine-learning-based optimization of messaging and microtargeting, unchecked misleading information and deep fakes, all at increasing velocity, sophistication and overwhelming scale." There's a lot in there. That was a single tweet, 280 characters or less.

NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond will help us explain all that. She's in San Francisco. Good morning.


INSKEEP: I guess we should note we've heard in recent days from Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, who says, hey, let's have the political debate, and even if candidates go out there and lie, we should see them lie and know that they lie. Why is Dorsey so different?

BOND: I think Dorsey just has a really different worldview from Zuckerberg, as epitomized in that tweet that you read. I mean, he says that he thinks Internet ads for political campaigns and issues are too much for our democratic institutions to handle and that when they allow politicians to pay for these kinds of ads which show up in your Twitter feed as promoted tweets, that's forcing messages on people who didn't seek them out, the people who get targeted. That's very different than when people choose to follow a politician or see a retweet from someone else they follow.

And this comes as Twitter has been struggling with how people use its platform and misuse its platform. This is the biggest step Dorsey's taken to try to fix things, you know, ranging from hate speech to bullying to disinformation. This is the most dramatic move. And on the other hand, you know, Zuckerberg has been defending Facebook's hands-off approach by saying it's really protecting free expression.

INSKEEP: I want to make sure I understand how this works because, you know, I go on Twitter a fair amount, and I read other people's tweets, but I don't see things that are obvious ads. The Twitter timeline doesn't stop for a Budweiser ad or something. So what is it exactly we're talking about when we talk about Twitter ads?

BOND: Right. It's not like TV. These aren't commercial breaks. You have seen ads, I'm almost sure, but you may not have noticed them. So they show up just like a regular tweet, and it just says in small letters at the bottom, promoted. I mean, that's what Twitter advertising is. It very much in, you know, in that feed and in the platform looks very similar. That's why it's really powerful - right? - because it's just part of the experience of scrolling through.

INSKEEP: It's like native advertising, as they would say. It's just right there. It's part of this, but someone is paid to get it in front of my eyes, and it just looks like somebody's tweet.

BOND: Right. And it may not be from somebody that you, yourself, actually have chosen to follow.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about someone who has a lot of political content on Twitter, the president of the United States - many millions of followers, lots of political content there. How does this affect the president and political players like him? And what does he think about it?

BOND: Well, Trump's 66 million Twitter followers will still be able to read all of his tweets and retweet them, and so we won't miss out on anything.


BOND: What the difference is - he - well, he and other candidates for office and other politicians won't be able to pay to promote tweets that are about the election or other political issues.

INSKEEP: Oh, so the fact - and we don't exactly know everything, but the fact that the president has so many millions of followers partly is because he makes news but partly is because he's pushing his messages out there with money.

BOND: Yes, that's - I think that's a fair guess.

INSKEEP: And what does his campaign think about the losing the ability to do that?

BOND: Well, you know, they say it's a mistake. The - you know, his campaign manager said this is a big mistake and that Twitter was walking away from a lot of money here. You know, we should note, though, it's actually a small portion of Twitter's revenue.

INSKEEP: Do Trump's Democratic rivals, who also, we should note, spend money on Twitter, think this is a good idea?

BOND: Yeah. He's been applauded by many of them, including Hillary Clinton.

INSKEEP: Shannon, thanks so much.

BOND: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That is NPR's Shannon Bond in San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.