Who pays for political ads on Twitter anyway? Data is the true cost

Twitter used to be seen as a place for free advertising distribution in political circles. Parties would put together a nice visual with a memorable slogan, then sit back and hope it would be shared.

That can still happen in the run up to December’s election, but Twitter is generally a more nefarious place now, so CEO Jack Dorsey has now banned paid-for political ads. Twitter will continue to be a place for “spats,” “storms” and worse, but it has taken the social media high ground, where Facebook fears to tread, and microtargeting will no longer be allowed to undermine free speech on the platform.

Dorsey wants to create a “level playing field” where “political message reach should be earned, not bought.” The move is supported by Hillary Clinton, who tweeted that it’s the “right thing to do for democracy in America and all over the world,” but not by Donald Trump, who calls it a “dumb decision.”

The move will cost Twitter proper money in the US, where elections are big business and there is no upper limit on how much can be spent on a campaign: Donald Trump tweeted somewhat bitterly that it will cost Twitter “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Facebook – which announced revenues up 29 per cent yesterday – is not going to let all those millions pass it by, especially when there’s a lucrative US election coming up next year. This week 250 Facebook employees wrote an open letter saying that, if Facebook can screen and check ads from brands, why can’t it be done for political advertising?

Zuckerberg, however, continues to insist he won’t censor political speech, sticking to the line that transparency is enough, and allowing users access to information on how much people are spending on political ads. Even more importantly (he says political advertising is just 0.5 per cent of ad revenues) Facebook also gets to keekp all the valuable data that a political campaign releases.

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About Emma Hall

Emma Hall
Emma Hall is the former Europe Editor of Ad Age, where she covered European marketing advertising, digital and media stories. She has written for newspapers including the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Times and the Telegraph, and was previously a section editor at Campaign. Emma started her career in New York as a researcher for a biography of Keith Richards.