Twitter’s ban on political ads is bad for democracy

It’s a huge shame that Twitter have decided to stop accepting political advertising on their platform.

It is understandable that they have chosen to do so: the lack of government regulation of political advertising has led to abuse by a range of political actors from official campaigns to covert disinformation operations by malicious nation-states.

Policing the fairness of election campaigns is the job of governments not tech platforms or media owners. It’s complicated, incendiary and expensive.

The political class’s scapegoating of companies like Facebook and Google for paid advertising’s role in the spreading of “fake news” and a poisoning of public discourse has been a transparent attempt to shift the blame from themselves.

Yes, political advertising in its current unregulated state has been involved in some deeply concerning political events.  But it’s important not to forget the vital role that political advertising plays in democracy.

The research shows that the more political advertising during an election the more informed the electorate are about the issues at stake.

It sounds obvious, but it requires restating because too often the mainstream media portray political advertising as some sort of societal ill.

Political advertising is as old as democracy itself. Election slogans were written on walls long before Facebook built their social feed.

With the right rules in place, political ads can play an essential role in having a politically educated electorate, which is vital for a society that wants a flourishing market place of ideas.

And we’re lucky to be out of the dark old days when newspaper owners and TV news broadcasters could decide what information was available to us to use to decide who to vote for.

Twitter’s actions should be taken as a warning by elected representatives worldwide: if you want to continue to use social media advertising to inform the electorate about your views, you need to urgently reform the way it is regulated.

If politicians continue to refuse to update the rules around advertising in elections, it won’t be long before Facebook and Google stop taking political ads too and democracy will be significantly worse off for it.

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