Editor’s note: This column was written by a student in Joe McGarrity’s intermediate microeconomics class at UCA. Joe McGarrity, a regular columnist, has vetted this column.
On Oct. 30, 2019, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey publicly announced that Twitter will officially ban the use of political advertising of any sort on its platform. This new policy will go into effect on Nov. 22 and it is intended to stop the spread of misinformation on the social media site. Dorsey hopes that the ban will stop false information from being ingrained in political advertisements – where the impact is extremely harmful to millions.
Twitter, along with the many users, benefit from the policy. From the beginning, Twitter intended to be an application where people were openly allowed to connect, and build a virtual community online with others. Overtime it slowly morphed into a platform where daily rhetoric of all sorts was spread. Twitter soon became a place where false information could quickly spread like wildfire. Politics and political jargon were often included in this false news.
For many users, the politics and false news becomes an almost unavoidable distraction and makes the experience on the app unpleasant. As a result, users may have decreased their participation on Twitter. There is an obvious correlation between the satisfaction of users and the usage of the app. Twitter executives wish to transform the application back into a place where users are satisfied with their overall experience. With the ban, Twitter hopes to generate more traffic and users may become more satisfied with their experience on the app.
An unintended consequence of the current policy is that users (including politicians) will obviously become upset and switch to other platforms. Inevitably, displeased users will stop using Twitter and make the switch to Facebook. Mark Zuckerburg has infamously taken the opposite stance and he has encouraged users to continue to use Facebook as a platform for free speech.
Many Democrats have sided with and praised Dorsey’s decision, where Republicans disapprove and have favored Zuckerburg instead. A consequence of this policy is that users will use Facebook as a platform to express thoughts, opinions and perhaps facts. Not only are political advertisements going to become banned on Twitter, but the app will also ban issues that are deemed political such as “climate change”. Even though some topics are controversial, these are still conversations that are important and can be held by users.
The groups that are harmed are any Twitter users that have used the application to post political advertisements of any sort. Politicians, especially poor ones will be impacted because outreach to followers will be significantly cut. Since Twitter is a free application, candidates will soon have to use money, whether their own or raised, to reach the general public. Another group that may be initially harmed is Twitter.
When the policy is first put into motion, some users will be displeased and make the switch to a different social media platform.
The political advertising ban is important with good reasoning behind it. It is important that information is spread in a truthful manner. Instead of banning ads, Twitter should hire a team of people to evaluate ads and make sure that they are well informative and truthful. This way if people are upset about the policy, political conversations can be made once ads are screened in a neutral way. Twitter can make sure that users are not spreading misinformation in response to any ad that is posted.
According to Fast Company Compass, Twitter Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal stated that Twitter made 3 million dollars in political advertising revenue for the 2018 cycle. Certainly with 2020 elections quickly approaching, Twitter could have potentially earned made another 2 million without the ban. I propose that a team of professionals screen all political tweets. This approach should not cost more than 1 to 1.5 million dollars per year, depending on the volume of political speech. Twitter can also fine, suspend, and potentially ban users that continue to post false political advertisements and information of any sort. My proposal reduces fake news on Twitter, but allows the company to continue to receive revenue from political posts.