Twitter Bans Political Advertising but will that Help?

Michael Onsando
5 November ,2019

There’s probably no one happier with the news that twitter has banned political advertising on the platform than social media influencers. This category of industry players are set to make more money during any election season than ever before with politicians looking for a way to leverage the power of social media to sway the vote their way.

It makes sense that a social media platform would try to do something about political advertising, especially after it is being blamed for tampering with the US election. And, given that they are looking to do whatever they can to make sure Trump’s being voted in is not blamed on the record breaking ignorance of the American people, it’s time to blame the ads. And this makes sense because it is not just in the US that Cambridge Analytica data driven targeted advertising has fudged election results. Writing about the 2017 elections Rasna Warah wrote:

“The unethical tactics employed by Cambridge Analytica were revealed last year by the whistleblower Christopher Rylie, who claimed the company harvested Facebook data from millions of people around the world and then targeted them with political messages and misinformation without their knowledge or consent”

  • Cambridge Analytica and the 2017 elections

It also makes sense that it would be twitter seeing as Facebook, who recently went the completely opposite direction when they announced that they would not fact check political posts, owns all IG, Whatsapp and Facebook. Of course this makes sense because Twitter are still trying to gain more mileage in the market while Facebook can sit back and “allow” for cards to fall where they may because they have already dominated their corner of the market. As long as more ads are booked Facebook makes more money. And who books more ads en masse than Cambridge Analytica?

Even before we can move forward we need to ask “what is a political advertisement?” A question that has some obvious answers “Vote for me for mayor!” for example, falls squarely in this category. However, the things that are political change as the politic of the season morphs. Dams in Kenya have been highly political after the money that was supposed to build them disappeared. But would that mean that twitter has then to monitor posts related to dams for a season? Or would that be a gap for political candidates to gain mileage on social media?

It has also been argued that for political candidates with smaller fanbases the absence of this form of advertising will be a disadvantage as they will be speaking to a smaller audience (god forbid that they have to do on ground campaigns like it used to be before social media).

Both Facebook and Twitter CEOs have made a simple slippery slope argument. What happens when you start down that road? How far do you have to go? Facebook are talking about keeping free speech free and twitter are talking about protecting the end consumer and, eventually, democracy in general. Both of these decisions are also in line with the revenue received from political advertising and with their business model. For Twitter, the ban affects a small part of their revenue. Whereas some reports have Facebook and Google splitting up to 60% of any given campaign’s digital advertising budget (twitter does not get the remaining 40%).

Many words to say the bigger question remains unanswered – How do we curb mass manipulation by the political elite?

While Twitter seems to have the idea, as stated earlier, this just moves the incentive to influencers, who will charge top shilling for the platform they now offer. Facebook, on the other hand, seems to have made it clear – top budget wins the day on any of their platforms, again leaving the end user vulnerable.

“If education is the key, then tell me why the people have to make it so expensive for we”

There’s no question to the disruption that the digital world has done across all sectors of industry, communication being one of the hardest hit. Whereas before digital media the voter was at the mercy of whisper campaigns and official propaganda through newspapers and leaflets the rise of cyberbubbles has created a different type of monster. Micro-targetted bubbles means that messages one receives are the types of message that they would already be suspect to fall for. A Uhuru supporter is likely to receive even further Uhuru enforcing messaging and so forth.

And so the more things change, the more things remain the same. Now, more than ever, an informed educated voter is the only way to stop the cycle of electoral tampering.

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