Twitter began prepping in May for November’s U.S. midterm vote, when it created election labels for candidates for Congress and governor. Now the social network is turning its attention to ads regarding “legislative issues of national importance.”
Twitter announced a new ads policy and certification process for ads advocating for issues such as abortion, civil rights, climate change, guns, healthcare, immigration, national security, social security, taxes or trade.
Issue ads will be labeled on Twitter’s timeline, in the same way candidates’ ads are already being labeled.
Facebook announced a similar labeling policy for election-related and issue ads in May.
Enforcement of the new policies will begin Sept. 30, giving account holders time to submit their applications.
Eric Schiffer, chairman and CEO of digital marketing solutions provider DigitalMarketing.com and Reputation Management Consultants, said of Twitter’s transparency efforts, “The 2016 election and its associated manipulation by Russia and other actors has ambushed the credibility of many social platforms. Twitter refuses to have its moral authority and credibility decimated further, and it is taking hyper-aggressive, prophylactic measures that will irk many reputable advertisers but also prevent another Hindenburg.”
Josh Nanberg, president of political and media consultancy Ampersand Strategies, was a bit more cautious, saying, “We’re still in the reaction stage, where people go too far in one direction, and we’ll have a pulling back at some point. I give Twitter credit for trying to have a process. Hopefully, that process will evolve to the point where it is not producing undue frictions.”
Group product manager Samir Bhana stressed during a press briefing that the list of issues is subject to change as national discourse shifts, adding that Twitter’s new policies only apply to promoted content, and they have no bearing at all on organic content.
Bhana said that in order to receive certification to run issue ads, Twitter accounts must:
- Verify their identity and location.
- The account’s profile photo, header photo and website must be consistent with its online presence.
- The account’s Twitter bio must include a link to a website that provides valid contact information.
- If the Twitter handle is not related to the certified entity, the account’s Twitter bio must include “owned by” information.
Once all of the required information is submitted and vetted by Twitter, a physical letter will be sent to the address provided, via the U.S. Postal Service, with a code enabling the U.S. issues ad account to be created.
Policy specialist Lucía Gamboa added during the briefing that Twitter will be able to detect changes to handles, and if those handles’ online presences are no longer consistent with the information they provided, all ads will be held from those accounts until they are compliant again.
And Bhana said Twitter is already combining artificial intelligence and human judgment in its processes: Machines flag content that potentially violates its policies, and humans make the nuance calls. Twitter’s system begins scanning as soon as an account starts running an ad, and in cases where confidence is high that the ad is violating Twitter’s policies, it can be held until it is verified by a human.
News organizations can apply for exemptions from these new policies. In order to qualify, they must:
- Have a minimum of 200,000 monthly unique U.S. visitors.
- Ensure that contact information, “about” information and details about their reporters and editorial staff are available online.
- Ensure that a searchable archive is available online.
- Publications cannot primarily consist of aggregated or user-generated content.
- Publications cannot be dedicated to advocating on a single issue.
Affiliated journalists can be added to applications for exemption, as long as their name is in their Twitter profile, their bio indicates affiliation with and links to the publication’s website, their bio states that they are a journalist and they are listed on the news organization’s website.
Schiffer said of the exemptions for news organizations, “The founding fathers are resting well in their graves with news like today’s, because many of their fears were realized in 2016. The moves (Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey) is making and hopefully other leaders will show that the business of leadership can also mean being a good statesman and protecting the republic.”
Facebook took a different approach, refusing to grant exemptions from its political ads policy to news publishers.
Issue ads will be included in the Ads Transparency Center, which Twitter unveiled in June to provide users with a look at all ad campaigns run by that account within the past week, as well as billing information, amount spent on the campaign, impression data for each tweet and details about the demographic that was targeted.
Bhana said that the specific audiences that were targeted will be displayed, adding that use of tailored audiences will be shown, but the actual audiences will not.
If ads are taken down for policy violations, they will not appear in the Twitter timeline, nor in the Ads Transparency Center, in order to not further propagate bad content. Twitter’s “tombstone”—its message indicating that the tweet is not available because it includes content that violated Twitter’s ad policies—will appear in the Ads Transparency Center.
Advertisers who feel that their ads were erroneously removed can file a ticket with the help center to appeal Twitter’s decision.
Still, Nanberg worries about legitimate ad content being mistakenly pulled, saying, “Where I run into trouble on Facebook with this is that I’ve advertised something and just happened to use a word that tripped them up and had to get a disclaimer. I can see a situation where a news outlet wants to promote a breaking news scoop that happens to trip the wire and ends up not being able to promote its own content.”