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Zuckerberg Takes A Free Speech Approach To Content While Twitter’s Jack Dorsey Drops The Hammer

Chris White on October 31, 2019

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey decided Wednesday to ban all political ads heading into the 2020 election as his counterpart at Facebook defended a move to exempt politicians from fact checks.

Dorsey noted in a long thread that politicians’ ability to use Twitter to target audiences through ads is different from advertising on broadcast TV or other television platforms. Politicians should be forced to earn their support on Twitter rather than purchasing ads to that effect, he noted.

“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,” Dorsey wrote on Twitter.

He said the move should not be perceived through the prism of free speech or free expression.

“This isn’t about free expression,” Dorsey noted. “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.”

Dorsey’s decision came as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended his company’s decision to prohibit its independent fact checkers from flagging content posted by politicians like President Donald Trump.

“Right now, the content debate is about political ads. Should we block political ads with false statements?” he said Wednesday during a conference call. “Should we block all political ads? Google, YouTube and most internet platforms run these same ads, most cable networks run these same ads, and of course national broadcasters are required by law to run them by [Federal Communications Commission] regulations.”

Zuckerberg, who has wrestled with accusations of conservative bias in recent years, doubled down on his free speech defense.

“In a democracy, I don’t think it’s right for private companies to censor politicians or the news. And although I’ve considered whether we should not carry these ads in the past, and I’ll continue to do so, on balance so far I’ve thought we should continue,” he added.

Twitter’s new policy could seriously harm some smaller organizations and politicians who are attempting to etch out a space in a crowded digital ecosphere. Nonprofits attempting to reach larger audiences and challengers to incumbent officeholders are likely to be detrimentally affected.

“If you’re a challenger, advertising allows you to make up that difference,” Matt Shupe, a Republican political strategist, told reporters. “It’s very hard to organically grow an audience for a state assemblyman campaign.” Trump’s reelection campaign also criticized the move.

“This is yet another attempt to silence conservatives, since Twitter knows President Trump has the most sophisticated online program ever,” campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a press statement following Twitter’s decision.

Political advertising makes up a small amount of the tech platform’s revenue — political ad spending during the 2018 midterm election was less than $3 million. Facebook’s revenue from such ads is similar, making up less than 0.5% of the company’s revenue in 2020, Zuckerberg said.

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