When a political party purchases advertising spaces on social media to increase their reach, it has ramifications on the contemporary democratic structures, and it is evident that the world was never prepared to handle this heavy bombardment of targeted advertising. The banning of political ads on social media, such as Twitter, comes in the wake of Facebook running false political adverts. These bans are apparently a method of preserving free speech. However, as Twitter makes this proclamation, are social media corporations not aware that they should be taking responsibility in greater magnitudes? Twitter is extending this ban to issues, such as abortion, climate change and immigration. The banning of political advertisements opens these social media empires to the likelihood of more misinformation.
The banning of political advertisements on social media, really the banning of anything on social media these days, is the get-out-of-jail-free card that they all need to avoid greater responsibility for what is shared on their networks. If you take a look at Instagram, it’s a haven for those who want to share self-harm and plastic surgery images, they respond by banning both, but that’s just a response to anger from users. Just because they are banned, these images don’t vanish, they simply go underground by becoming privatised and less public. If these bans can be easily flouted, so can other bans, including political issues. Facebook, one of the best platforms to reach voters, has shown an inclination to reduce the strength of these political ads, but Zuckerberg has made it clear that the social media app would not fact-check messages from the political groups on the site – even if that information is fundamentally incorrect. It’s obvious that a simple ban against these political ads is a relatively simple solution, especially against the complexity of misinformation in the digital realm, where anyone can share their partisan views. Similar to Instagram, these efforts will be poor at best, because they are not dealing with the crux of the issue. They need to take responsibility for what is published on their networks and create better guidelines for the online community they claim they want to protect.
We’re finally receiving that overhaul of old regulations and rules, in particular, national lawmakers in the United Kingdom, Germany and France are policing disinformation, hate speech and terrorist content on the internet. There needs to be regular updates in these guidelines, regulations and the laws created by networks and countries, especially as they can become quickly futile under the fast development of social media. There are so many questions and debates over who should be liable for these issues on social media? Well, they are equally responsible for what the people who use their apps say and share on them, and these networks need to admit this to themselves first so they can move on to solve these problems.
If we look back to October 2019, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced the ban of political ads and other ads that convey political issues, which is problematic, to say the least. A fine line as to how we moderate political speech has been drawn, and it may not necessarily be the correct one, as it can bring other companies under fire and cause damage to non-profits. Following the outcry from the activists working on a variety of different issues, Twitter quickly announced afterward that it would allow a certain number of paid issue advocacy on its network, but that doesn’t fix the other issue that has been created. According to the new guidelines, advertisers must now be certified, and once you have gone through this process you cannot target your adverts which defeats the basic principles of advertising. Another rule under these guidelines is that adverts cannot promote an advocacy ad that promotes or opposes a judicial nominee, a candidate or legislation. For example, adverts highlighting toxic masculinity in candidates or adverts connected to abortion legislation in the government, are both banned for agreeing or disagreeing with these issues.
This policy and other similar policies banning political advertisements in any form undermine an organisation’s ability to push forward evidence-based information. These non-profit organisations need them to gather people to come to events, rallies and marches, but under these new rules it’s not easy to do this. Through targeted advertising they can help attract people who want to become politically engaged in positive and meaningful ways, but in an attempt to stop the few, policies like this are now stopping the many. Therefore, big tech companies need to understand that ads are very much needed, and by banning them all it stops these organisation from reaching their target demographic and makes the battle against misinformation that much harder for everyone on these networks.
The tech giants are not ready to acknowledge that they are part of the problem, that they need to take responsibility for what is shared on their platforms, but that by creating blanket bans they are doing more harm than good. They are making strides in creating bans, reviewing their guidelines and having national lawmakers update the laws, but this is simply not enough and these changes aren’t happening quickly enough. These companies are now drawing lines against those who need to fight back against the misinformation and shoddy politics that they allowed to be published on their sites. Ergo, they genuinely need to look at the disaster they have helped create and admit their part in it, only then can they make better adjustments to their networks.