Twitter Pulls the Plug on Political Ads: What This Means Going Forward

Twitter Pulls the Plug on Political Ads: What This Means Going Forward

Industry News – October 31, 2019

In a shocking move Jack Dorsey conveniently took to Twitter and announced that his company will no longer allow political and issue-based ads (click here to view the thread). My instant reaction was disappointment. I always had Twitter in my media plan for political and cause-based campaigns when the budget allowed.

What makes Twitter such a great platform for political and issue-based campaigns? The short bits of information Twitter was designed for is great for hot takes. If we know anything about political commentary today it’s all about the hot take. I understand Twitter doesn’t have the reach of other platforms, but nobody talks about “Trump Facebook Posts.” It’s the “Trump Tweet” because that’s the place to share hot takes and spark conversation.

In my opinion the timing of this announcement is nothing more than a PR stunt. Coming on the heels of Mark Zuckerberg vehemently defending Facebook’s stance on allowing political advertising on its platform Twitter is taking a shot at its much larger social media competitor. The question everyone in the political advertising space is asking themselves is whether or not Twitter’s stance will contribute enough additional pressure on Facebook to drastically limit or pull political ads from its platform altogether.

In the short term I believe Facebook will not bow to the pressure and continue to allow political and cause-based ads for the 2020 cycle. In the long term it may not be up to Facebook whether or not they continue this policy. We have already seen the first state take measures to effectively ban Facebook from running political ads. Many other politicians (both state and federal) have floated ideas of further regulating political ads.

I believe that Facebook is one more political ad scandal away from shuttering its political and issue-based ad business (either willingly or via regulation). One of three things will likely happen when the next scandal erupts:

  1. Facebook will get ahead of the fallout by voluntarily shutting down their political and issue-based ad business.

  2. Major brands will start pulling ads in protest (in the name of not wanting their brands associated with the offensive/false political content).

  3. Government will force the issue.

So what does this mean for political and issue-based advertising going forward?

I think advertisers will be safe sticking with their plans to use Facebook (sans Washington) in the 2020 cycle. That said, as Elizabeth Warren’s campaign recently pointed out Facebook still makes it very easy to promote fake political news on its platform.

I believe the next major scandal with Facebook is inevitable and likely will occur during the 2020 cycle. Facebook is already not complying with their ban on these types of ads in the state of Washington. Political and issue-based advertisers should start testing other channels to reach their audience now. As Twitter has demonstrated Facebook could come out of nowhere and shut down their political and issue-based paid media business.