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Twitter ban on political ads throws down gauntlet at Facebook

Pressure on social media to curb fake news to intensify at ASEAN meeting this weekend

Twitter is banning all political advertising from its service, saying social media companies give advertisers an unfair advantage in proliferating highly targeted, misleading messages. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)   © AP

TOKYO -- Twitter's decision to ban political advertising is set to intensify the pressure on social media companies around the world to combat the spread of fake news, especially as rival Facebook has recently ruled out a similar ban.

The move, announced in a tweet by chief executive Jack Dorsey, appeared to be aimed directly at Facebook's policy of allowing politicians to run any claims -- even false ones -- and follows last week's grilling in Washington of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg by U.S. lawmakers.

More immediately, Twitter's decision is likely to strengthen the resolve of Southeast Asian governments meeting in Bangkok this weekend to adopt a Thai proposal for countries to open fake news centers to prevent unverified information from circulating online.

Singapore has already promulgated a "fake news" law, which unsettled many of the global social media companies that have made the city state their Asian base, including Twitter.

In a string of tweets late on Wednesday night, Dorsey said Twitter had decided to stop all political advertising globally, stating that the reach of any political message should be earned, not bought.

"A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet," Dorsey said. "Paying for reach removes that decision, forcing highly optimized and targeted political messages on people. We believe this decision should not be compromised by money."

Twitter's approach stands in contrast with Zuckerberg, who last week struggled to defend Facebook's policy of allowing all paid political content, even if it contained lies.

Asked by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez if he saw problems related to a lack of fact-checking in political advertisements, Zuckerberg responded that "in a democracy, I believe people should be able to see for themselves what politicians they may or may not vote for are saying and judge their character for themselves."

While Zuckerberg said that running an ad containing a lie "would be bad," that was different "from it being -- in our position, the right thing to prevent your constituents or people in an election from seeing that you had lied."

In an interview on the sidelines of the Nikkei Global Management Forum in Tokyo earlier this week, Twitter Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal told the Nikkei Asian Review that the health of the public conversation was Twitter's No. 1 priority.

"It's critical to us that people can trust the information that they see, and that they can feel safe being a part of the conversation," Segal said.

"We also have recently updated our state-owned media policy, so that state-owned media cannot buy advertising on Twitter," he said. "They of course can continue to tweet, just like you or I can tweet, but they will not be able to buy advertising, the way that another publication may be able to do so."

Twitter is the first social media company to act to combat so-called fake news, following a stream of heated and often controversial votes around the world, from the U.S. and Brazilian presidential elections, to the U.K.'s Brexit referendum, and elections in India and the Philippines.

Singapore, which has been ruled by the Peoples' Action Party since independence 60 years ago, is expected to hold elections next year.

Under the city-state's "Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act," which took effect this month, any minister who deems that a social media post constitutes a "false statement of fact" can impose individual fines of up to S$100,000 ($74,000) or a jail term up to 10 years, or both, while companies can face fines of up to S$1 million.    

 

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