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Home / Editorials / Twitter’s ban on political ads is a good first step

Twitter’s ban on political ads is a good first step

It must do more. And so should Facebook, the bigger culprit in distorting democracy

editorials Updated: Oct 31, 2019, 18:38 IST
Hindustan Times
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in Washington, US, September 5, 2018
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in Washington, US, September 5, 2018(REUTERS)

On Thursday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced a ban on political advertisements (ads) on the micro-blogging site. He advocated the importance of credible information, especially political information, as it has the ability, and the intention, to influence voters. The timing is significant. Campaigning for the United States presidential elections has begun. In a speech earlier this month, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had ruled out a ban on political ads on his platform, citing free speech. Facebook, home to more political ads, has often drawn flak for spreading disinformation and fake news, and its privacy policy. In this backdrop, Twitter’s move is welcome.

Political ads, which micro-target users, much like commercial ads, have been called out for their blatant lies. But political ads have severe consequences. Politicians go the extra mile to win an election, but how far is too far if social media platforms allow you to spread (dis)information with no consequences? Going by fake ads by politicians on Facebook — very far. Misleading voters on a mass scale undermines democracy. To be sure, Twitter makes less money than Facebook on political ads, but of Facebook’s total revenue, Mr Zuckerberg confirmed that ads run by politicians will only make up 0.5% of its 2020 revenue. Little monetary gain from political ads makes Facebook’s approach seem far more sinister, and it should worry users.

While Twitter has stolen a march on Facebook with its announcement, it is only the first step. Twitter has, in India, blocked the accounts of non-abusive individuals, even while allowing accounts, including anonymous ones, which endorse rape threats, communal hatred, and death threats. Additionally, the promotion (read: buying) of Twitter trends distorts information flow. All of it has made the platform a site for abuse and uncivil discourse. Twitter must build on its ban, and undertake more comprehensive reforms. All of this also underlines the need for a new regulatory regime which takes into account the power of social media, and the need to hold it accountable.

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