Jessica Goodfellow
Nov 18, 2019

Twitter details political ad ban

The social network will restrict 'cause-based advertising' on topics like climate change alongside its blanket ban on political ads.

Twitter details political ad ban

Twitter has laid out guidelines for its blanket political advertising ban, which will include a policy restricting "cause-based advertising" covering topics like animal rights, climate change and social issues like abortion.

Co-founder and chief executive Jack Dorsey first announced the network would ban all political advertising in a string of tweets in October (conveniently the same day as Facebook's Q3 earnings call with investors).

But while the move was widely applauded, some expressed concerns over the definition of a political ad, and whether it would play into the hands of private-sector lobbying efforts. In particular, spectators were concerned that fossil-fuel companies would be allowed to continue to promote their products and ideologies.

For example, 2020 presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted on November 5: "Twitter’s new ad policy will allow fossil-fuel companies to buy ads defending themselves and spreading misleading info—but won’t allow organizations fighting the climate crisis to buy ads holding those companies accountable. We need accountability.”

Twitter's Dorsey responded in a tweet: "Taking all this into consideration."

The social network revealed the first guidelines for its political ad ban on Friday (15 November), which includes a policy for "political content" and one for "cause-based advertising". 

The political content policy forbids the paid promotion of any content that references candidates, political parties, government officials, legislation, regulation, referendums, or ballot measures. It effectively bans any campaigns or candidates from buying Twitter ads. The restriction also bans ads from political committees (called PACs and super PACs), and social welfare organisations (called 501(c)(4) organisations), which are often used as campaign fundraising vehicles in the US.

The “cause-based advertising” rules cover ads related to "civic engagement, economic growth, environmental stewardship, or social equity cause". Rather than facing an outright ban, this kind of advertising will be restricted. Issue-based advertising should not be used to drive political, judicial, legislative, or regulatory outcomes, but it can facilitate public conversation around important topics, Twitter said.

Advertisers will only be allowed to target these kind of ads based on specific keywords, interests and on broad-based geography (state, province or region-level) rather than specific zip codes. Keyword and interest targeting may not include terms associated with political content, prohibited advertisers, or political leanings or affiliations (e.g., “conservative,” “liberal,” “political elections"). Advertisers must complete a certification process to be allowed to run "cause-based" ads.

For-profit organisations like fossil-fuel companies will still be allowed to purchase ads under these restrictions, as long as they don't have the primary goal of driving political, judicial, legislative, or regulatory outcomes; and they must be tied to the organisation’s publicly stated values, principles, and/or beliefs.

The policies will be enforced from November 22.

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