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What Twitter’s decision to ban political ads means for other tech giants

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s recent public defense of allowing political ads on his platform -- even those containing false claims -- drew substantial scrutiny. Now, the CEO of fellow social media giant Twitter says it will stop running political ads in November. John Yang talks to Politico’s Nancy Scola about the reasoning, the reaction and the potential implications for other tech companies.

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  • Nick Schifrin:

    Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has publicly defended allowing paid political ads, including those with false claims, amid scrutiny of Facebook and other tech platforms.

    Twitter has long allowed political ads. But, last night, Twitter's CEO said the social media giant would ban them starting in late November.

    John Yang looks at the reasoning, the reaction, and what it could mean for it could mean for other tech giants.

  • John Yang:

    Nick, in a series of tweets announcing the decision, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said political ads present entirely new challenges to civic discourse at increasing velocity, sophistication and overwhelming scale.

    He said the ads have significant ramifications that today's democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle.

    Nancy Scola is senior technology reporter for Politico.

    Nancy, thanks for joining us.

  • Nancy Scola:

    Thanks for having me.

  • John Yang:

    So, this is a change for Jack Dorsey of Twitter. Why now? Why make this change now?

  • Nancy Scola:

    So, in a lot of ways, Jack was reacting to a great deal of pressure that's been applied to a different company than Twitter. That's Facebook.

    There's been this great deal of controversy around Facebook in recent weeks over their policy of not pulling down misleading posts that politicians put up.

    Jack was reacting to that in a way and saying, we're taking a completely different path, a completely different road than Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook have decided to go down.

  • John Yang:

    And this announcement — Dorsey made this announcement just before an earnings call for Facebook. And Zuckerberg was asked about it on that call?

    And he said: "In a democracy, I don't think it's right for private companies to censor politicians or the news."

    You have been talking to Facebook executives today. Do they feel pressure now because of what Twitter has done?

  • Nancy Scola:

    They don't.

    I mean, there's a great deal more attention them. They're well aware of that. But they say, we have made this decision. Our problem now is we haven't articulated it particularly well. But we have made a decision. We think it's the right way, and we're going to stick to it.

  • John Yang:

    And, essentially, their decision is what?

  • Nancy Scola:

    Their decision is that they are not going to — if politicians put up posts that are misleading, they're going to count on voters to look at those posts, those ads and say, OK, that's something that's not true, allow the public to make those decisions about truthfulness or not, not do the fact-tracking on the front end.

  • John Yang:

    And has — Dorsey made a distinction in his tweets, which are much longer than what we read, between paid speech ads and free speech, posts by people.

    What was the distinction he is making?

  • Nancy Scola:

    That's right.

    So, Jack's argument is that, if somebody posts something on Twitter, and it gets a great deal of traction, even if it's misleading, that's fine. You're winning the sort of like war of political discourse and you're gaining traction your own.

    If you're going to pay to promote it, that's sort of a false promotion, that Twitter is sort of being — what's the best way of putting it? Twitter is helping to implement, helping to perpetuate your falsehoods. They're not going to play that role.

    So he's making that distinction of, you can't pay to get scale. You have to get scale by actually the value of your message.

  • John Yang:

    And is Facebook — what's Facebook's attitude toward what we would call here free — the free media, the people — the things that people are posting, rather than the ads?

  • Nancy Scola:

    So, Facebook and Twitter actually have a newsworthiness exception.

    So, if you're a politician, a world leader, that sort of thing, they actually allow you to post things that otherwise might be violative of their terms of service. They will mark them on Twitter to say this breaks our rules of service, but it's — our terms of service — but it's more important for the public to actually be able to see what their political leaders are posting.

    So that's the approach that Facebook takes too. They leave it up. And they don't actually — they don't pull it down in a way that they might pull down other people's content.

  • John Yang:

    Is this sort of two different philosophies on this between Twitter and Facebook?

  • Nancy Scola:

    Absolutely.

    That's actually the really interesting thing that we're seeing happening is that I think you mentioned, in Jack's tweets, he really kind of referenced Facebook's policy. He didn't mention Mark Zuckerberg by name, but it was clearly a point-by-point refutation of the approach that Facebook has taken on this.

    And they're really kind of saying, OK, we're two different companies. We have two different ways of viewing the world. And we're going to go down different paths on this.

  • John Yang:

    There were some political reaction to this, as you might expect.

    The Biden campaign put out a statement saying: "When faced with a choice between ad dollars and the integrity of our democracy, it is encouraging that, for once, revenue didn't win out," speaking of the Twitter decision.

    On the other hand, President Trump's campaign manager, Brad Parscale, said: "This is yet another attempt to silence conservatives, since Twitter knows President Trump has the most sophisticated online program ever known."

    Are we seeing this rivalry of Twitter vs. Facebook becoming political and partisan?

  • Nancy Scola:

    Absolutely.

    And we have seen Facebook again and again be very cautious about being seen by conservatives as somehow biased against them. There's no evidence that they are biased against them. But they have really reacted against that critique that have come from Republicans since the 2016 election.

    They're really worried about doing anything that might set off those sort of alarm bells.

  • John Yang:

    And this started — the debate overall this, we should note, started when Vice President Biden's campaign complained about an ad on Facebook.

  • Nancy Scola:

    Yes.

  • John Yang:

    Tell us a little bit about that.

  • Nancy Scola:

    So there was an ad that the Trump campaign ran that alleged a connection, a nefarious connection, between the Biden family and the Ukraine. It's misleading. It's — there's no evidence to sort of back it up. And Facebook declined to take that down.

  • John Yang:

    Nancy Scola of Politico, thank you very much.

  • Nancy Scola:

    Thank you.

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