As big tech establishments twist the internet in their own image, further monopolizing the culture, commerce, and political propaganda for their own business interests, the emerging feud between Facebook and Twitter’s CEOs over the banning of political ads is changing how we should consider modern digital politics.
What started out as a simple public relations disagreement between over marketing bans turned into a drastic policy change from Twitter’s Jack Dorsey to cancel all paid political advertising across the globe as of November 15th. Mark Zuckerberg, who testified before Congress to address anti-trust concerns with Facebook, reaffirmed his company’s stance that “we need to be careful about adopting more and more rules” surrounding political speech as “it’s [not] right for private companies to censor politicians or the news.”
“A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet,” Dorsey counter-argued in his extensive Twitter thread, noting political messages can only be earned through grassroots user engagement, not bought through astroturf promotions. “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. 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.”
“Internet political ads present entirely new challenges to civic discourse,” he continued, “such as machine learning-based optimization of messaging and micro-targeting, unchecked misleading information, and deep fakes. All at increasing velocity, sophistication, and overwhelming scale. Some might argue our actions today could favor incumbents, but we have witnessed many social movements reach a massive scale without any political advertising. This isn’t about free expression. This is about paying for reach. And paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle. It’s worth stepping back in order to address.”