Twitter’s surprised many with a decision to ban all political advertisements, and it is shaking up the debate over how online platforms moderate political speech from public officials and candidates.
The company received praise from Democrats over its move, but faced harsh criticism from many on the right, who questioned if it amounted to censorship.
Far from resolving the matter, Twitter’s decision will likely subject the company to more scrutiny as it finalizes its rules and walks a tightrope between cracking down on misinformation and protecting speech. This move will also increase pressure on other platforms to reexamine their own policies.
Twitter’s political ad ban capitalized on the significant controversy surrounding larger rival Facebook, which has spent weeks defending its policy to not fact-check of block advertisements from politicians with false or misleading claims.
Twitter received praise from Democratic lawmakers, many of whom said Facebook should follow suit.
“Twitter is fulfilling its responsibility to avoid becoming a cesspool of falsehood,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), one of the top tech critics in the Senate, told reporters on Thursday. “My hope is that Facebook and Google will follow their example.”
But critics on the right – including President Trump’s campaign – pushed back at the ban, accusing the platform of caving to Democrats and stifling free expression.
Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale blasted the ban as a “dumb” decision in a statement on Thursday night, claiming “biased liberal media outlets … will now run unchecked as they buy obvious political content meant to attack Republicans.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a Big Tech antagonist, told reporters that this time, he thinks “Mark Zuckerberg is right, Jack Dorsey is wrong,” referring to the CEOs of Facebook and Twitter respectively.
“For social media to be in the business of banning and censoring political speech, of silencing candidates for office, silencing citizen groups and silencing individual citizens, is profoundly harmful to our democratic process,” Cruz said. He raised concerns that the policy will favor “incumbents,” or political candidates who already have significant social media followings.
On Capitol Hill, Dorsey’s decision was praised even by lawmakers who have laid into Twitter over other issues including its failure to stave off foreign election interference and protect users’ privacy.
“I think it’s clear that they’re trying to make a principled decision,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said. “If Facebook believes what they’ve been saying, and aren’t just caving in to the alt-right, they’ll just say, ‘We’re gonna have the same standard.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a progressive darling who grilled Zuckerberg at a congressional hearing over the company’s political ads policies earlier this month, tweeted, “This is a good call. Not allowing for paid disinformation is one of the most basic, ethical decisions a company can make.”