US Polls: Where Twitter, FB are forced to ban political ads

Facebook makes lot more money than Twitter on political advertising, so the stakes for that are much higher for them, says Contributing Editor of Politico Magazine

By   |  Published: 24th Oct 2020  12:02 amUpdated: 23rd Oct 2020  10:12 pm
With fake news being ‘a pretty big threat’, social media platforms had tried out different fact-checking modes, but the volume of advertising was very hard to keep up with. Photo: Agencies

Hyderabad: As the presidential election campaign in the United States moves into the final phase, with barely 10 days left for the polls, the impact is to be seen even on social media.

With the Republicans and Democrats slugging it out on social media, platforms like Twitter and Facebook have banned political ads, which have traditionally been a major weapon during elections in the US. Talking to a select group of 225 journalists as part of a Foreign Press Centre ‘Virtual Reporting Tour’ on the role of TV ads and social media, Joanna Weiss, Contributing Editor, Politico Magazine, said the impact of social media on the voter was so high that about a year ago itself, Twitter had announced that it would ban all political advertising up to the 2020 election.

“Facebook makes a lot more money than Twitter in general on political advertising, so the stakes for that were much higher for them. Still, very recently Facebook announced that one week before the election on November 3, they will not accept new political ads,” she said.

Going into how social media was used by candidates and parties over the years, Weiss said one of the reasons that the Obama campaign did very well in 2008 was because it was one of the first presidential campaigns ever to make use of Facebook.

“Facebook was founded in 2004. It was a relatively new tool still in 2008, but one of Barack Obama’s key strategists was one of the founders of Facebook and he and others helped the campaign understand how to use this platform as an organising tool. Some media outlets called 2008 the Facebook Election. Little did they know what was coming,” she said, adding that in 2016, Donald Trump used Twitter in a different way and more effectively than any other candidate had before to bypass the media completely and get his message directly to the people.

“He obviously is still doing that when he is president. He tweets all day and all night, lots of all caps, lots of exclamation marks, even when he’s in the hospital. The campaigns also use Instagram now,” Weiss said.

“Donald Trump was a master of Facebook as well in 2016. He actually used it to generate most of the $250 million in online fundraising that his campaign received,” she said, pointing out that in 2016, the Trump campaign spent a higher percentage of its advertising budget on digital advertising overall than the Clinton campaign did.

With fake news being ‘a pretty big threat’, social media platforms had tried out different fact-checking modes, but the volume of advertising was very hard to keep up with. They had tried Artificial Intelligence and algorithms to identify things that could be fake information, but there still were a lot of things that fall through the cracks. And, since it was very difficult for these social media platforms to stay on top of misinformation, they reluctantly decided to just shut down advertising at a certain point.

But candidates were still using social media in other ways. So while Twitter was good for live communication, Instagram was more about pushing out a message. Tik Tok was an emerging social media platform in the US, while Facebook was still the dominant platform in social media political communications today.

“I think that’s the one where you’re seeing the most political action right now,” Weiss said, adding that with the last six months seeing Covid-19 emerging as the number one issue, it had most of the advertising and campaigning as well as posts by candidates on social media touching on it.

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