What will Twitter’s new rules mean for political advertising?

25 Oct 2017

Twitter mobile app. Image: Sattalat phukkum/Shutterstock

Twitter’s new efforts will involve the labelling of electioneering ads promoting political candidates.

Political advertising on social media sites has been examined with a magnifying glass over the last number of months, and concerns have culminated in a US Senate investigation into alleged Russian ties within the Trump administration.

Facebook was found to have sold thousands of adverts to inauthentic accounts likely operating out of Russia, and Twitter also stated to congressional investigators that there had been some level of interference on its site, too.

A new transparency effort from Twitter

In an effort to make things clearer for Twitter users and advertisers, the general manager of revenue product and engineering, Bruce Falck, has laid out plans for a major transparency initiative.

All ads on Twitter will now be subject to regulations laid out by a new body called the Advertising Transparency Center.

This new centre will offer information about who is advertising on Twitter, and will allow users to share their feedback with the team. It will show how long ads have been running, what creative agency or individual is behind said ads, information on promoted-only ads and ads that are directed to individual users based on the company’s personalised targeting.

Users can now give feedback on ads, whether they are targeted to them specifically or more generally disseminated on their feeds.

Electioneering ad measures

The measures around political advertising will become particularly stringent. Electioneering ads – by definition of the Federal Election Commission – are ads that refer to a clearly identified candidate or party associated with that candidate for any elected office, and which are targeted to the relevant electorate, distributed within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a general vote.

This type of ad will now have a clearly identifiable marker, and the look and feel of the ads will be altered to make users aware of what they are seeing.

The Twitter centre will also have a special section for electioneering ads that will include disclosures of how much campaigns are costing advertisers, who exactly is funding the campaign, the target demographics for said campaign and historical information about ad spending for the advertisers in question.

Electioneering advertisers will also have to self-identify, which means that stealth electioneering ads will be less common.

It’s worth noting that these rules only apply to the strict definition mentioned above, and Twitter also said that it will try and work out a way to implement similar rules for issue-based ads – for example, political ads criticising immigration policies.

“There is currently no clear industry definition for issue-based ads but we will work with our peer companies, other industry leaders, policymakers and ad partners to clearly define them quickly and integrate them into the new approach mentioned above,” Falck wrote.

The updates will be implemented in the US first, with plans for a global roll-out in the works.

Last week, a group of US senators introduced the Honest Ads Act, bipartisan legislation that aims to prevent foreign interference in US elections and improve online ad transparency.

It’s clear that in a world where internet interference can have an undeniable geopolitical influence, more needs to be done to provide trustworthy and truthful information to citizens.

Twitter mobile app. Image: Sattalat phukkum/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects