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Twitter Caves: Announces Plan To Improve "Transparency" For Political Ads

One week before Twitter executives are slated to testify before the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, the company has bowed to pressure from lawmakers and announced it will soon begin providing users with more information about political advertising appearing on its platform, CNBC reported.

Bruce Falck, Twitter’s GM of revenue, product and engineering, made the announcement in

The policy – which is meant to provide “greater transparency” for Twitter’s user base – will apply to “issue-based” ads, as well as ads supporting a given candidate. The company has also said it will be “improving controls” and “adopting stricter advertising policies.”  To achieve this Twitter will launch a “transparency center” that will reveal who is advertising on Twitter, details behind the ads, and tools for users to share feedback with the company.

Specifically, the transparency center will show:

  • All ads that are currently running on Twitter, including Promoted-Only ads
  • How long ads have been running
  • Ad creative associated with those campaigns
  • Ads targeted to you, as well as personalized information on which ads you are eligible to receive based on targeting

Twitter’s decision comes one week after Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John McCain (R-AZ) and Representatives Derek Kilmer (D-WA), and Mike Coffman (R-CO) introduced the Honest Ads Act legislation – a bill meant to prevent “foreign influences” from manipulating US social media platforms to influence elections.  

While Twitter says it’s still working on a definition for what constitutes an “issue-based” advertisement, its transparency center will include a special section specifically dedicated to “electioneering” ads.  

The center will include:

  • All ads that are currently running or that have run on Twitter, including Promoted-Only ads
  • Disclosure on total campaign ad spend by advertiser
  • Transparency about the identity of the organization funding the campaign
  • Targeting demographics, such as age, gender and geography
  • Historical data about all electioneering ad spending by advertiser
  • We are also updating our policies for electioneering advertisers to:
  • Include stricter requirements on who can serve these ads and limit targeting options
  • Require electioneering advertisers to self-identify as such
  • Introduce stronger penalties for advertisers who violate policies

Falck unveiled this mock-up of what Twitter’s political ads might look like in the future:

Twitter added that it will begin rolling out the new transparency features in the US, before expanding them to all global markets.

During President Obama’s first term, Facebook and Google successfully lobbied the FEC to exempt them from a rule requiring advertisers to disclose who paid for political advertisements. In 2011, Hillary Clinton lawyer Marc Elias represented Facebook when it asked the FEC to exempt their ads from rules that require “public communications” in campaigns, like political TV ads or direct mail, to include a disclaimer saying who paid for that ad. The same Clinton, incidentally, who bow blames Russian ads for losing the elections.

The FEC exempts “small items” from disclaimers on who paid for them—that’s why political TV ads say who paid for them but bumper stickers don’t.

These rules would’ve required Facebook to disclose the source of the infamous 3,000 “Russia ads” that it recently turned over the Congressional investigators. Enforcement of the rule might’ve forced Facebook to more heavily scrutinize ad buys, which may have weeded out the purported "Russia-backed" groups who purchased the ads.

Twitter reportedly identified 200 Russia-linked accounts on its platform and turned the list over to Congress. And now that one has caved, how soon until Facebook and Google – whose executives will also testify next week – follow suit?