(CBS News)–Twitter is halting all political advertisements across its social media platform starting late next month, founder and CEO Jack Dorsey announced Wednesday. “Political message reach should be earned, not bought,” Dorsey said in a series of tweets.
“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,” he said.
“While internet advertising is incredibly powerful and very effective for commercial advertisers, that power brings significant risks to politics,” Dorsey added.
The ban on political ads takes effect November 22, with a few exceptions, such as ads that encourage voter registration.
The company defines a political ad as one that refers to an election or candidate, or that advocates for or against “legislative issues of national importance,” like climate change, health care, immigration or taxes, Twitter executive Vijaya Gadde said. A detailed policy will be in place by November 15, Dorsey said.
Twitter’s policy stands in sharp contrast with rival Facebook, which has come under fire for its decision to allow lies in political ads. Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg has defended that policy, saying that banning such ads would be akin to censorship and pointing to other platforms that also accept misleading ads.
Dorsey took a swipe at his rival Wednesday, writing: “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.”
Brad Parscale, campaign manager for President Trump’s 2020 campaign, harshly criticized the move. “Twitter just walked away from hundreds of millions of dollars of potential revenue, a very dumb decision for their stockholders,” Parscale said in a statement on Twitter, adding, “This is yet another attempt to silence conservatives, since Twitter knows President Trump has the most sophisticated online program ever known.”
Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia praised Twitter, telling reporters on Wednesday that he hoped Facebook and YouTube would follow the company’s lead.
Twitter makes most of its revenue from ads, though it commands only some 1% of the U.S. digital advertising market, according to eMarketer.
“[I]t’s likely that political advertising doesn’t make up a critical part of Twitter’s core business,” eMarketer senior analyst Jasmine Enberg said in a note. “And, given the nature of the platform, people, publishers and politicians will still use Twitter to discuss politics organically, meaning that it won’t fully solve the problem of misinformation.”
The move came as a surprise to some players in politics. A consultant on a Democratic presidential campaign told CBS News: “Twitter told no one they were going to do this. We found out the same way y’all did.”
Twitter currently only allows certified campaigns and organizations to run political ads for candidates and issues. The latter tend to advocate on broader issues such as climate change, abortion rights and immigration.
National political campaigns are expected to devote most of their ad spending to broadcast and cable channels during the 2020 election cycle, according to research firm Kantar, with about 20% of the total $6 billion in spending on digital ads.
Twitter shares, which traded flat on the day, fell 2% after Dorsey revealed the new policy minutes after the market closed.