Twitter Temporarily Blocks Campaign Ad… Getting It Much More Attention
from the don't-let-twitter-be-the-content-police dept
We’ve argued repeatedly that it’s a bad idea to demand that internet platforms like Twitter and Facebook be more proactive in policing content on their services, because it will lead to really bad results — especially in the political realm. There’s been a really dumb move over the past few months, demanding that Twitter kick Donald Trump off Twitter, pointing out that he’s pretty clearly violating many of their terms of service. For example, threatening war with North Korea would likely violate the rules against “violent threats (direct or indirect).” And, of course, our President is a walking, tweeting harassment and “hateful conduct” machine. But, Twitter has recently said that it wouldn’t kick Trump off the service (which we agree is the right move), because it has a different standard for “newsworthy” tweets, whatever that means.
And, yes, some people will claim that it’s unfair to have a double standard, but I think Twitter is correct to not kick Trump off the service. It certainly wouldn’t stop the President from getting his thoughts out there, and would only increase the silly martyr act that he and his most vocal supporters love to focus on. But, really, the bigger issue is why anyone should expect Twitter to be doing this kind of decision making in the first place. When you look at other communications systems — like email or the web in general — we don’t kick people entirely off email or force them to takedown their website just because they say something stupid.
And, when it gets into political content, it gets even sillier. For example, while Twitter won’t do anything about Trump (again, the right move…), it did decide to block a campaign ad from Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who is eagerly running for the Senate to take over the seat Bob Corker is vacating. (Update: as noted in the comment, Twitter allowed the video in Blackburn’s stream — or in anyone else’s — they just blocked it from being promoted through Twitter’s ad network). The ad sounded inflammatory and stupid, claiming that she “stopped the sale of baby body parts” and Twitter rejected it for being “inflammatory.” Of course, all this did was kick the old Streisand Effect into high gear, giving Blackburn tons of free publicity and extra views of her ad, which was posted on YouTube, without having to buy any advertising. Twitter basically gave her a much wider reach for free by rejecting the ad. And, of course, after all the damage was done, Twitter changed its mind.
Now, I tend to think that Blackburn is one of the worst members of Congress (she’s terrible on basically every issue we care about here) and would prefer she not move across Congress to be in the Senate, but she should be able to post whatever stupid ad she wants on Twitter, and just let people on Twitter rip it to shreds, rather than being barred from posting such an ad.
It seems pretty straightforward, but we shouldn’t want a private company — especially one as consistently confused about these things as Twitter — to be the final arbiter of what political ads or political speech are okay, and what is too “inflammatory.” That only leads to bad results — and all of the free publicity Twitter just gave Blackburn’s dumb ad will mean that other politicians will seek to create even more ridiculous ads to get the free “bump” from a Twitter ban. That hardly seems healthy for democracy.