Nov 15, 2019 - Technology

Twitter refines political ad rules

Photo: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Twitter announced updates to its new political ad ban on Friday, clarifying how it will define political ads and what exceptions exist for certain advertisers.

Why it matters: The new details include bans on specific advertising micro-targeting, which is something that industry leaders and regulators have been calling for in light of research and reporting showing how micro-targeting can be abused to spur misinformation.

Background: Twitter said it would ban political ads last month. The announcement, which was made at the same time as Facebook's earnings call, didn't reveal many of the details around the policy at the time. The policy is expected to go into effect Nov. 22.

Details: Twitter explained Friday that it will limit advertising micro-targeting for all advertisers to location, keyword and interest targeting.

  • Keyword targeting focuses on a certain set of approved words, like "soccer," while interest-based targeting means targeting around a set of approved interests such as "cooking."
  • Keywords related to politics will not be permitted.

Between the lines: Twitter also clarified how it would define political ads and which kinds of accounts would be impacted by its new rules.

  • Twitter will not allow ads from candidates, political parties or elected or appointed government officials. In the U.S., PACs, SuperPACs and political nonprofits, called 501(c)(4)s, are also prohibited from running ads. The restriction expires when a politician is no longer in office or running for office.
  • The tech giant stated that it will define political ads as "content that references a candidate, political party, elected or appointed government official, election, referendum, ballot measure, legislation, regulation, directive, or judicial outcome."
  • Twitter clarified how it would define and regulate issue ads, saying ads that "educate, raise awareness, and/or call for people to take action in connection with civic engagement, economic growth, environmental stewardship, or social equity causes" will be prohibited.

If a for-profit wants to run ads that aim to raise awareness around a cause, they can but the ads can't have the primary goal of driving political, judicial, legislative or regulatory outcomes, per Twitter. It adds that those ads have to be tied to the organization's publicly stated values, principles and/or beliefs.

Twitter also said that news publishers will, to an extent, be exempt from this policy.

  • This is notable because Facebook received blowback for its political ad policy for news publishers when it first introduced guidelines in mid-2018.
  • According to Twitter, news publishers that meet its political ad exemption criteria can run ads that reference political content and/or prohibited advertisers, "but may not include advocacy for or against those topics or advertisers."

The big picture: Twitter reiterated on the call that the policy is a work in progress, and there will be times wherein mistakes are made in enforcing the new rules, but that overwhelmingly, it has received positive responses from its community.

"Most people understand what we’re trying to achieve and some people may disagree with the message but people are being open and waiting for details to come out."
— Vijaya Gadde, legal, policy and trust & safety lead at Twitter, on a call with reporters

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