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.

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Comments on “Twitter Temporarily Blocks Campaign Ad… Getting It Much More Attention”

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btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Pick and Choose

It’s not just the president who gets the double-standard treatment.

Conservative commentators like Dana Loesch routinely receive the most vile of death and rape threats, which when reported to Twitter, are met with “Meh. Not a violation of our community standards”. Yet those same conservatives often find themselves suspended/muted over far more innocuous (but anti-left) remarks or over nonsense like “failing to use someone’s preferred pronouns”.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Pick and Choose

On the flipside, marginalized people who routinely face harassment sometimes have their accounts suspended for daring to speak up against the harassment. Do not act as if this is a “Twitter loves only leftists, libtards, and pinko commie bastards” story. Hell, I have had my account dinged with a brief suspension because I said a cuss word in a reply to a Verified™ account, and I am nowhere near being a conservative.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Pick and Choose

The public approval needed to win a Presidential election might have something to do with it.

No matter how bad Trump is – including being a “walking, tweeting harassment and ‘hateful conduct’ machine” – he’s entirely consistent with how he acted before the election. There have been no surprises. Nothing unpredicted, nothing that wasn’t completely obvious long before the election.

He has exactly the same demeanor, intelligence, maturity and dignity that led the Republican Party to declare him their best possible choice for the job. The same that won the election.

While I and others are horrified, the country made its decision fully informed. Who is Twitter to disagree?

aerinai says:

Welcome to Platforms over Protocols

Unfortunately, platforms are the sexy, new thing that everyone loves. Close down the hatches and let a single company create a ‘platform’.

Email doesn’t have this problem because it is a Protocol. Twitter has the problem because it is a platform. BitTorrent doesn’t censor applications, because it is a protocol. The Apple App Store has a problem because it is a platform.

So the more we feed into Platform culture, the more you will see people putting arbitrary control over how people use it. Not necessarily good or bad; it is their right as the platform curator, but we just need to understand curators will censor at their whims because reasons.

Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

Re: Welcome to Platforms over Protocols

  1. Absolutely correct. This is why mailing lists are a vastly superior communications mechanism compared to trash like “social media”.

    2. Twitter is managed by spineless cowards and run by ignorant newbies. NOTHING it does (or fails to do) is surprising: of course it’s incompetent and negligent, why would anybody expect anything else?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: You know

“but if you want to alienate half of your potential audience”

I doubt it is half .. btw, just what offends you so much?
Just curious.

Why should anyone “recuse” one’s self from writing about whatever they want to write about?

How does the word “recuse” have relevance in the world of journalism? What is the conflict of interest you are addressing here?

Virtue signaling … is that like dog whistle?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 You know

Why should anyone "recuse" one’s self from writing about whatever they want to write about?

Because they recognize when they do so, they make a fool of themselves, and drag down the reputation of their organization?

But, hey, if the editors and publisher of Techdirt are fine with this, a very large fraction, even if you doubt it’s half, of their potential audience can just write it off as terminally pozzed with Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS).

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 You know

Funny thing, while your comment had plenty of insults(‘make a fool of themselves’/’Trump derangement syndrome’), it was notably lacking in meaningful answers to the questions posed to you.

Perhaps that was just a minor slip up where you forgot to add it before hitting submit, and in that case feel free to address the questions they mentioned such as:

What exactly you find so offensive?

Why TD writers should ‘recuse’ themselves from covering certain subject(using an actual argument, rather than just ‘because it looks silly according to me’)?

Why it’s apparently wrong to write articles that mention people(that just so happen to be republicans, not that you’d know reading the articles because it’s almost never mentioned) in a less than flattering light, even when the main focus is on a platform they are using.

I look forward to a more exhaustive response to these questions so that people can better understand your position and the point you are trying to make.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 You know

Not to mention George F. Will, who has been so consistently conservative in his published views for as long as I’ve known who he is that I’ve virtually never agreed with him – to the extent that I’ve gotten in the habit of referring to him semi-derisively as “Fwill” – but whose every column that I’ve seen post-Trump-election has been eloquently but vitriolically anti-Trump.

He appears to be a genuine, consistent, philosophical/ideological conservative, rather than a Republican partisan – and there are too few such people left, for any political faction or facet, in the modern world.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“What a biased rant against Hitler. Your side lost the election, get over with it”.

(Not saying Trump = Hitler, I’m saying that winning an election doesn’t free you from being criticized when you do horrible things in office. And yes, Hitler was legally elected, and legally became dictator)

Anonymous Coward says:

Minor mistake in this article!

Twitter blocked the ad from being spread using their promoted/paid advertising services. The ad was NEVER blocked from her personal twitter or from anyone retweeting it.

People saw “THE AD WAS BLOCKED” and went crazy, but it was only blocked from being advertised to others using twitters services, thus the ‘inflammatory’ objection to the ad.

Twitter is perfectl allowed to reject any advertising on its platform that it wants that it is hosting.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Twitter blocked the ad from being spread using their promoted/paid advertising services. The ad was NEVER blocked from her personal twitter or from anyone retweeting it.

Very useful. I will update the article.

Twitter is perfectl allowed to reject any advertising on its platform that it wants that it is hosting.

I never said otherwise. But I still think it was stupid and shortsighted.

Anonymous Coward says:

The meat and potatoes here should be that President is tweeting* threats to crazy fat man who wants to destroy every man woman and child while the world sits holding its breath. Not that twitter should interfere and prevent him from doing it. Someone should tell the President to stop making the threats on this platform period. Send in the B1s.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: 'You were critical of someone I (apparently) support' = 'Partisan'

If people keep doing/saying stupid things, and they just so happen to belong to the same party as you, it may seem like they’re ragging on ‘your’ party, but that’s just a side effect of those people being in your tribe.

Out of curiosity, is it even possible to say something negative about a republican(and I’ll note that the article had no mention of which party she belonged to) without being ‘partisan’ under the standards you use?

Likewise, would you have been playing the partisan card has the individual in question been a democrat?

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: 'You were critical of someone I (apparently) support' = 'Partisan'

Given the number of time TD has lambasted the Dem’s Diane Feinstein, Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2017 @ 7:07am, I call foul. TD has no partisan bias; if anything it seems to lean libertarian, which confuses the hell out of partisans who try to reduce us to a red or blue option.

Go, Techdirt!

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: And Techdirt has officially become partisan

Techdirt called out actions by the Obama administration during the entirety of Obama’s time in office. This site does not devolve into partisan hackery unless one party—or one politician from one party—does something stupid.

Democrats and Republicans are neither good nor bad in and of themselves. The actions they take, and the consequences that follow, reflect upon themselves. A Democrat can make a dumbass decision that works against the public interest just the same as a Republican. If you believe that one party is always good and the other is always bad—no matter which party is on which side—you might want to re-examine your thought processes.

And if you think Techdirt hates Republicans/conservatives but loves to metaphorically (or literally!) suck the dicks Democrats/progressives, you will need to prove it for anyone else here to take you seriously.

NaBUru38 (profile) says:

“The ad sounded inflammatory and stupid, and Twitter rejected it. 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, without having to buy any advertising.”

That’s part of the plan, of course. Ranting conspiracy is how Trump got free airtime since he ran for Republican candidate.

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