"We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought," announced Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. That followed Facebook taking fire since reaffirming that it will not fact-check ads by politicians or their campaigns — which could allow them to lie freely. That company's CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, told Congress last week that politicians have the right to free speech on Facebook.
The issue came to the forefront in September when Twitter, along with Facebook and Google, refused to remove a misleading video ad from Trump's campaign that targeted former Vice President Joe Biden, who along with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren leads the 2020 Democratic Party field. In response, Warren ran an ad on Facebook claiming that Zuckerberg endorsed Trump for reelection, acknowledging the deliberate falsehood as necessary to make a point.
"We appreciate that Twitter recognizes that they should not permit disproven smears, like those from the Trump campaign, to appear in advertisements on their platform," Biden campaign spokesman Bill Russo said in a statement. "It would be unfortunate to suggest that the only option available to social media companies to do so is the full withdrawal of political advertising, but when faced with a choice between ad dollars and the integrity of our democracy, it is encouraging that, for once, revenue did not win out."
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock suggested Facebook should follow Twitter's lead, tweeting simply: "Good. Your turn, Facebook." Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, called Twitter's move "a bold step" that reflects a "sense of responsibility." Buttigieg, speaking to reporters in Peterborough, New Hampshire, added, "I think other online platforms would do well to either accept their responsibility for truth or question whether they should be in the business at all."
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, another Democratic presidential candidate, said it was unacceptable for different social media platforms to have different rules on political advertising. "Under their current policies, Facebook is allowing blatant lies in political ads and now Twitter isn't allowing political ads at all, creating a patchwork of solutions across various platforms that isn't going to work," she said in a statement. She said it was "time for Congress to take action" to create consistent standards for all political advertising.
Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale panned Twitter for walking "away from hundreds of millions of dollars of potential revenue, a very dumb decision for their stockholders." "This is yet another attempt to silence conservatives, since Twitter knows President Trump has the most sophisticated online program ever known," Parscale said in a statement. Other Republicans, though, suggested it was the other party that could be hurt. "HUGE hit to Democrats who do significantly more advertising on Twitter than we do," tweeted Matt Whitlock, a senior adviser to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Political ad archives on both platforms show that the 2020 candidates spent far more money on Facebook spots than Twitter, meanwhile. Trump's reelection campaign spent $21.2-plus million on Facebook ads between May 2018 and this past weekend, compared to $269,000 on Twitter spots. Over the same period, 10 top Democrats trying to unseat the president combined to spend more than $34.3 million on Facebook ads and $4.5-plus million on ones on Twitter — though both totals include spending during the Senate campaigns some ran last year.
Warren spent nearly $4.7 million on Facebook ads and about $900,000 on Twitter ads, some of which came as she sought reelection to the Senate last year. Her campaign offered no immediate comment to Twitter's announcement.
Her spending outpaced that of Biden, who paid nearly $2.8 million for Facebook ads, compared to around $617,000 on Twitter spots. Leading the Democratic field on social media spots between last May and earlier this month was former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who shelled out more than $9 million for Facebook ads and $1 million for ads on Twitter — though he spent heavily online during his unsuccessful 2018 run against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.
Dorsey said the ban takes effect Nov. 22, meaning the company could still accept Biden's and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaigns purchasing ads to run on Twitter hours before his announcement.
Associated Press writers Amanda Seitz in Chicago and Hunter Woodall in Peterborough, N.H., contributed to this report.