Twitter is banning political ads. This is Jack sticking it to Mark while the latter is on the ropes in a one-two punch including a jab against Libra. This mast feel like sweet revenge for the many ways Facebook has messed with Twitter over the years including snatching Instagram. But is it the right thing to do?
Not running paid political adds is a self-imposed behavioral remedy, the way traditional antitrust regulators would impose on monopolies. A behavioral remedy requires or forbids some specific action. These are a last resort when a company has too much power and there is no other way of curbing this power.
But is there really no other way to curb the power of Twitter and Facebook? Of course not. We could have enduser APIs instead. And for the first time in the US there is a bill proposing more or less that, the ACCESS Act proposed by Senators Warner, Hawley and Blumenthal.
Of course the great irony here is that Twitter started out as just an API and did not have its own apps. If Twitter still had a real (instead of crippled) API, anyone could write a third party Twitter client. Such a client could decide which ads to show and which to strip. It could programmatically pull in third party evaluations of those ads – and more importantly could do so for all tweets, not just ads. Now that would be giving power back to the enduser.
Instead we will have Twitter deciding what’s a political ad, which sounds great for all of a second until you start to think about some pressing issues. Take the climate crisis. Will an ad for a carbon tax be a political ad? Or take HIV. Will an ad promoting Prep be a political ad? There is an obvious inconsistency here in saying: we can’t evaluate which political ads are sufficiently truthful at scale but we can evaluate which ads are political. And that will end badly for sure. Especially as the dollars that would have been used for ads will just flow into more influence operations.
So yes, I suspect Jack is feeling good about this but if he truly wanted to take a step that made a real difference he should bring back the Twitter API full bore. But what about revenues, you may ask, when a client could strip all ads? Twitter should set a subscription price at something like the 25th percentile of its RPU from ad supported users (per region).