Social media management takes a new twist as Twitter announces plans to ban political ads from its service globally, with the action to come into force on 22 November.
The broad ban will cover all adverts specific to candidates and issues, however some ads will be allowed to remain, including those encouraging people to vote. The organisation says, via a tweet, that they ‘believe political message reach should be earned, not bought…?’.
This comes ahead of the US Presidential election campaign as well as the General Election here in the UK. Although on one level it makes sense and provides more of a level playing field for campaigners, regardless of their financial backing, it does open a whole area of debate.
Some of the key points that come to mind, include whether it is right for a media outlet to ban all political advertising or would it be better to implement the existing guidelines on advertising that prevent false claims, libel or malign forces acting inappropriately?
There are also a number of very grey areas including; what exactly determines a political advert? Should the ban cover all topics relating to racial equality, women’s rights or even climate change? It’s clear that an all-out ban would be hard to police, subjective as to what areas are covered and could pose more problems than it answers.
There is no doubt that ‘fake news’ or worse still intentionally deceptive stories should be more effectively managed on-line or at least come with an open disclaimer. There is a growing problem of fake news as it polarises opinion, misleads and unduly influences susceptible voters – often even making the news in more genuine outlets.
The Conservative Party has also recently been told off for doctoring a video of Sir Keir Starmer outlining Labour’s position on Brexit. Anyone with a modicum of intelligence could immediately tell it was a ‘joke’, however there is a fear that over policing of such activities or such extreme social media management could both dry up political debate but worse still put politics above mockery – at a time when our political leaders are opening themselves to satire and Spitting Image is making a timely comeback.
As we wait for the full details of Twitter exemptions next month, it’s a shame that a media outlet is planning to unilaterally determine what advertisers can or can’t say and to therefore ironically have an influence on a political outcome. Perhaps it is because they simply want to apply pressure on competitors like Facebook who secure significant revenue streams from political advertisers?
The media is no doubt changing and rightfully so. We must however welcome, embrace and use new digital communications platforms but it’s critically important that the media operates to a level playing field where rules regarding false promises or advertising are closely monitored and managed. If that is the case then there would be no need for media outlets to take matters into their own hands and influence their own audiences by determining what they’re willing to share with their customers.