Twitter Unveils New Rules For Political Ads Amid Scrutiny Of Russian Accounts

**HOLD FOR STORY S HALL** Show is a Twitter mobile phone icon in Philadelphia, Wednesday, April 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Matt Rourke/AP
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Twitter on Tuesday afternoon announced a new set of standards for political ads on its platform as well as a “transparency center” that will allow users a detailed look at the nature of ads being shown to them on the platform.

But there were no new guidelines for so-called “issue ads,” a term that covers the majority of the propaganda Russian government operatives deployed on Twitter to influence the 2016 election.

“Today, we’re announcing steps to dramatically increase transparency for all ads on Twitter, including political ads and issue-based ads,” wrote Twitter exec Bruce Falck on the company blog. “We will also be improving controls for our customers and adopting stricter advertising policies.”

Twitter’s announcement seemed geared at heading off regulators at the pass: Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) recently proposed the Honest Ads Act, a bill to regulate digital advertising in the wake of accusations that Twitter and Facebook had been exploited by Russian cyberactors trying to sow division in the American electorate.

Warner tweeted that the company’s new rules for political ads are “a good first step,” which is markedly softer than his harsh words for the service after it gave what he described as an “inadequate” presentation to the Senate Intelligence Committee in September.

The most substantive change Twitter is making appears to be the transparency center, which will allow users to see who is advertising what, for how long, and whether those ads have been targeted to their accounts, in addition to the information organizations use to target advertising. Additionally, Twitter will now require political ads to identify their campaigns as such and “include a visual political ad indicator.”

But “issue ads”—which might say, for example, “a wall with Mexico is a great idea” rather than “vote for Donald Trump”—remain unaddressed.

We are committed to stricter policies and transparency around issue-based ads,” Twitter’s announcement reads. “There is currently no clear industry definition for issue-based ads but we will work with our peer companies, other industry leaders, policy makers, and ad partners to clearly define them quickly and integrate them into the new approach mentioned above.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sam Thielman is an investigative reporter for Talking Points Memo based in Manhattan. He has worked as a reporter and critic for the Guardian, Variety, Adweek and Newsday, where he covered stories from the hacking attacks on US and international targets by Russian GRU and FSB security services to the struggle to bring broadband internet to the Navajo nation. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son and too many comic books.
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