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Can Twitter's ban on political advertising work?

Two weeks ago, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, announced his company planned to introduce a blanket ban on political advertising.

What struck me as interesting about this were the questions it raised with regards to just what is a political message? And, will this move completely undermine whatever integrity the platform has? With a December election looming, I can’t help wondering if it’s too little too late.

Today, political discourse and paid-for promotion suffer from a severe lack of credibility. The ease with which an opinion can be forced into our newsfeeds, whether correct or not, is troublesome.

Actions, not words

Just last week, The Conservative Party tweeted an edited video of Keir Starmer presented as an attack. It didn’t need to be promoted, it’s virality was all it needed. But that means we are all left trying to differentiate between political message and political art. Twitter acknowledging and seeking to eliminate this, is to be applauded, but the proof will be in how seriously it polices messaging and subverting the new rules.

For many, the genie is already out of the bottle. We live in a world where funded content is designed to influence opinion. If Twitter can actively enforce this new stand, it will help make its platform a better place. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to see how it can achieve this having done so little in the past. Issues like racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny to name a few, continue to dog the platform. Is it not a bit rich of Twitter to suddenly decree what we can and cannot see?

Danger of misinformation

Another question mark hangs over how effective this new ban will be. The timing too is curious – the announcement was made just hours before Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced a grilling by US lawmakers. It’s a straw-man response when so much of Twitter ills are generated by an algorithm forcing misinformation into our newsfeeds. We are frequently exposed to content that we don’t subscribe to, but is considered in our interests based on either our behaviour or people with similar profiles. What is more dangerous, misinformation from political parties? Or misinformed opinions from people who we are told are similar to us?

Pandora’s Box

Personally, as we head towards 12 December, I’m conflicted. In the 10 years I’ve spent on Twitter, I’ve tailored my newsfeed to exactly what I want from it and this feels like the opening of Pandora’s Box. Yes, there is a need to hold social platforms to account for the dissemination of content that is provably incorrect, but do we risk forcing ourselves into a situation where because we can’t police everything, we decide to not police anything?

Written by David Macnamara, senior social and content manager at communications agency Teamspirit

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