With its political ad ban, Twitter will also limit microtargeting for ‘issue’ ads

With its political ad ban, Twitter will also limit microtargeting for ‘issue’ ads
Digital sovereignty

Twitter says it will place limits on microtargeting for issue-based ads, as part of its wider ban on political advertising, according to The Telegraph. The move could put additional pressure on Facebook to make similar changes.

The debate over political ads on digital platforms has heated up in recent months, driven in part by Facebook’s decision to allow political ads with false claims. But a related debate has focused on micro-targeting, which allows advertisers to target very precise segments of the population using detailed data on demographics or lifestyles.

Critics say the practice allows politicians to advertise different platforms or claims to various segments of the population, without facing scrutiny from the rest. They also warn that microtargeting leads to increasingly siloed public dialogue, with different parts of the population relying on different sets of information. 

In recent weeks, Google and Facebook said they were considering limits for microtargeting, and Twitter announced a ban on political advertising, aimed primarily at traditional campaign ads from politicians. While it left exceptions for issue-based ads to raise awareness for social causes, it’s now saying that microtargeting will be limited for those ads.

Twitter’s policy chief Vijaya Gadde told reporters Friday:

“Advertising that uses micro-targeting presents new challenges that are not yet fully understood. It’s a big change for us as a company, but one we believe is going to make our service and hopefully political outcomes around the world better.”

Gadde said the policies are being rolled out quickly to ensure they take effect ahead of the UK’s general election in December. 

Twitter’s decision could add to mounting pressure on Facebook, which has borne the brunt of criticism over political ads. With a much more advanced system for targeting users, and a massive pool of user data, Facebook depends more heavily on revenue from microtargeted ads.

Under Twitter’s new rules, ads are banned from referencing a “candidate, political party, elected or appointed government official, election, referendum, ballot measure, legislation, regulation, directive, or judicial outcome,” with exceptions only for certified news organizations that “reference” rather than “advocate” issues. 

Political parties and politicians can no longer buy ads at all. However, the platform is providing exceptions for ads that “educate, raise awareness, and/or call for people to take action” on a certain cause.

In these cases, strict rules will apply. Ads can only be targeted by broad geographical region, keywords, and user interests, with limits on targeting by demographics and behaviors. Keywords can’t include political affiliations, and the ads must not be primarily geared to promote regulatory changes or electoral outcomes. 

Telegraph report earlier this month showed that Britain’s Labour party was using detailed data on users’ lifestyles and social status, purchased from credit checking agency Experian, to target voters. 

Photo by (CC) Brian Solis, www.briansolis.com / bub.blicio.us