Political Ads, Twitter, and Neo-Nazis

Mia Levine, Scarlet Staff

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Most people in today’s world love social media. Popular social media apps include Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Each of these platforms has differing user factors and offer different types of content. Facebook is – or supposedly is – a way to connect with close friends and family. When I open Facebook, I tend to see photos posted by awkwardly-friended estranged relatives and baby pictures of my friends posted by their Great Aunt whom I do not know. Personally, Facebook feels like a more professional or family-friendly social media source, while other platforms such as Twitter feel completely different.

While Facebook is more image-based, Twitter is usually full of text chains posted within the 280- character limit. Twitter is a place where people ranging from Jojo Siwa to our own commander in chief Donald J. Trump to the average millennial can post whatever comes to mind at any given moment. Opening Twitter usually results in spending 30 minutes going through my personalized feed liking tweets I find funny or keeping up with angsty politicians and other political opinions. Most of my generation tend to pay attention to and listen to politics through various tweets rather than through people one knows on Facebook.

Starting this past fall, Facebook has come under a lot of fire in terms of its policies relating to political ads. Facebook had announced that it would not be fact-checking political speeches including various campaign financed ads. Essentially, they said that they would not remove any political advertisements.

Twitter responded to this by removing all political ads beginning soon after Facebook’s announcement. Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, said: “This will be the broadest possible ban and will specifically cover ads regarding individual candidates and issues”. Within Twitter’s terms and conditions they write “anyone who is affiliated with a group either on- or offline that is found to “engage in and/or promote violence against civilians to advance a political, religious and/or social cause” is in violation of Twitter policy. However, Twitter still has thousands of users that spread lies and promote violence within their tweets. So then, if these new guidelines regarding political ad bans are to be implemented, how can users trust that Twitter will follow through when they have not clearly been able to complete their mission regarding average users?

Earlier this month, audio of Richard Spencer, an American Neo-Nazi and white supremacist, was leaked on twitter. The clip, allegedly recorded during the Summer of 2017, hears Spencer hurling racial and ethnic slurs in reference to the Unite the Right rally, an alt-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Within the clip, Spencer says “my ancestors enslaved those pieces of f*!^%&g s&!t.” While many see this phrase as Spencer clearly affirming and voicing his stance as both a racist and a white nationalist, Twitter does not feel that the audio bite violates their aforementioned policy. In a statement from the company, Twitter said that “we have not received reports of content that would result in [Spencer being] suspended” and that Spencer did not have any known affiliations to hate groups, though, in my opinion, both this specific clip and many other statements Spencer has made prove the contrary.

If Twitter is worried about advertising being able to target communities and ambush them with false information, then I do not understand why they are allowing the founder of a modern Neo-Nazi movement to maintain space on their platform. If Twitter won’t allow prominent political figures to post ads and expand on their ideologies but allows Neo-Nazis to express their opinions, what does that say about the morality behind Twitter’s leaders and their future policies? Twitter bans political ads concerned with abortion and gun control but allows white-supremacists to boast their bigoted opinions on their platform. Jack Dorsey has a lot of explaining to do.