Hello Again and welcome back to our weekly politics updates.
Wait, no, that’s not what this blog is about, is it? Well, it seems like political debates and Social Media are now irremediably bound together. If you’ve been following my latest blog, the last two have been about the controversial position Facebook has taken on the issues of fake news and political ads on its platform.
But whilst Facebook seems to be turning a blind eye on the impact their social media can have on politics and elections, Twitter has decided to take the diametrically opposed approach and ban all political ads.
Twitter has made the major announcement that it will move to ban all political ads on its platform, in order to distance itself from concerns about political speech and misinformation. Jack Dorsey, CEO and Founder of Twitter has explained his decision in a long thread:
“A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet. Paying for reach removes that decision, forcing highly optimized and targeted political messages on people. We believe this decision should not be compromised by money."
Basically Dorsey implies that the power of targeted social media advertising brings significant risks to politics, "where it can be used to influence votes to affect the lives of millions”.
Dorsey's stance comes in stark contrast to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who recently gave a public address in which he championed the role of social platforms in facilitating free speech. On this matter, Dorsey made himself very clear by stating that:
"This isn’t about free expression. This is about paying for reach. And paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle. It’s worth stepping back in order to address."
People have taken different stances on the Facebook VS Twitter argument.
On Facebook, targeted political ads were a major factor in the attempted voter manipulation around the 2016 US Presidential Election cycle - but on Twitter, it wasn't so much its ads that were the problem, but the automated bot armies which were deployed to boost certain tweets.
So how much of a difference will this ban have?
In addition to the ban, Twitter says that it's been focused on "deterring potentially spammy accounts at the time of account creation; often before their first Tweet". So, at least, Twitter is recognising the limits of the ban and still taking action in regards to the trolls.
In fact, Twitter's latest Transparency Report shows a 105% increase in accounts being locked or suspended for violating the Twitter Rules.
These might seem like very remote arguments between industry giants, but they affect every single one of us. My personal issue with this entire diatribe is that no one is forced to use social media. They are private platforms and basically can decide whatever they want to do with their tools. If you don’t like it, just remove yourself from the platform. On the other hand, it would be extremely naive to underestimate the reach of social media platforms. They have become the new “Agorá”, the centre of discussion of our new globalised world.
I am mainly concerned about those demographics that are very active on Social Media but have never been taught any digital literacy. So maybe Twitter has a point.
But what if the only way of spreading a different political message was social media? What if there are people using Twitter in countries that barely allow free speech?
What if Twitter was used as a medium to promote and present an alternative to current regimes?