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Twitter to relax ban on political ads

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Twitter said it was relaxing its ban on political and issue-based advertising on Tuesday, a reversal of the company’s long-standing approach to paid political speech.

The policy change, which comes at a time when major advertisers are pulling out of the beleaguered social media platform, would allow candidates and advocacy groups to spend money to promote themselves and their causes on the service.

“We believe that cause-based advertising can facilitate public conversation about important topics. Today, we’re relaxing our ad policy for cause-based ads in the US. We also plan to expand the political advertising we allow in the coming weeks,” the tweet said.

A second tweet clarified that the company would first ensure that its approach “to reviewing and approving content protects people on Twitter.”

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Twitter has long taken what it described as a principled stance against political advertising. When then-CEO Jack Dorsey announced political ad bans in 2019, he said it was because he strongly believed that political messages “must be earned, not bought.” That language was then posted on the company’s website and was still there as of Tuesday afternoon.

The sudden reversal was characteristic of the careless and chaotic way in which Twitter is being run by its new owner, billionaire Elon Musk. The company announced the change and promised to “share more details” as work progressed. There was no explanation for why Twitter made the changes or how extensive the changes would be.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.

Since buying the company in late October, Musk has embarked on a whirlwind of changes. He recently said the team is just over 2,000, up from 7,500 at the start of 2022. That means about 75% of the team has been laid off, laid off or resigned. He reversed policies that seek to limit Covid-related misinformation and gave handpicked journalists glimpses of Twitter documents, including ordering anyone to have access to Twitter’s internal systems – causing some employees to protest that this was asking them to violate a legal agreement. Agreement. He botched the company’s first major product launch — a paid blue checkmark — and had to put it on pause.

While Twitter has always been a marginal player in political advertising compared to Google or Facebook, Tuesday’s ruling will allow political groups and figures to promote themselves in upcoming election races. Some Prominent Republicans gained Twitter followers in the months leading up to the Musk takeover, according to data analyzed by The Washington Post.

Politicians and advocacy groups have previously complained that limiting all such advertising because some contain misinformation is unfair. Facebook went in the opposite direction ahead of the 2020 election, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg arguing that it was not the company’s responsibility to verify political ads and that such ads would be allowed to run on the service.

Political ads were also relatively irrelevant to Twitter’s overall business. At the time of the ad ban, the company’s chief financial officer said political ads generated about $3 million in revenue – a small fraction of a multibillion-dollar ad business on the platform.

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But several advertisers stopped spending on the platform after Musk’s acquisition, citing concerns about its ownership, the content appearing on the site and mass layoffs. Musk, who bought the company for $44 billion, also owes about $1 billion in interest payments each year.

Shortly after the Musk takeover, a barrage of racist and anti-Semitic tweets appeared on the social media platform.

Some digital strategists applauded Tuesday’s policy shift, though they said it’s too early to say how big Twitter will become in political advertising by 2024. Campaigns are increasingly navigating a fragmented digital advertising environment, as voters spend more time on a wider range of social networks – including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok.

But other major social networks — including TikTok — continue to have broad political advertising bans in place.

“Obviously it’s nice to have more options,” said Republican digital strategist Eric Wilson. He said there would be a “learning curve” for campaigns returning to Twitter because their data on the platform’s effectiveness is out of date and that they would have to navigate whatever changes Twitter made to its advertising tools.

However, he said political campaigns would likely be spent on the platform as long as it continues to be used by journalists.

“We know that voters are not as active on Twitter as they are on places like Facebook and Instagram,” he said. “But it remains important in shaping political narratives.”

Cat Zakrzewski contributed to this report.