While Dorsey’s assertions have earned him both appreciation and flak from opposite ends of the political spectrum in the US—the debate on social media’s responsibility to check the veracity of the content is all the rage in the country at the moment
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced the decision to ban all political ads from the platform globally, starting November 22. Dorsey cited the challenges, such as “unchecked misleading information, and deep fakes … at increasing velocity, sophistication, and overwhelming scale,” that such ads on the internet pose to civic discourse. Claiming that “paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle,” he added that the reach of a political message “should be earned, not bought.” Twitter intends, therefore, to allow political messages from private users as long as its spread is dependent not on payments, but user engagement. While Dorsey’s assertions have earned him both appreciation and flak from opposite ends of the political spectrum in the US—the debate on social media’s responsibility to check the veracity of the content is all the rage in the country at the moment—the justifications offered for the move fail to hold up to close scrutiny, and, thus, make Twitter’s stance seem a holier-than-thou pontification, especially in the light of Facebook’s decision not to fact-check ads by politicians.
First, to claim that advertisements, political or otherwise, contribute to the spread of misinformation goes against the founding logic of advertisements—these are meant to influence. Given that paid content on Twitter is already marked as ‘promoted’, it would follow that consumer discretion is advised. Second, if the aim is to check the spread of “fake news,” why have commercial ads been left out of the purview of this decision?After all, they could spread as much, if not more, misinformation as political ads. Third, and most important, Twitter’s decision to censor content raises, once again, the question of whether the social media platform is a public forum or an editorially-driven company akin to a publishing house—Dorsey’s claims that this is not censorship, but selective banning of a certain category of ads is an editorial decision.