The US-based social network on Thursday in a surprise reversal opted not to ban political advertising on its website, putting on hold for now the stalled rule following criticism of its “dark money” campaign by Republican lawmakers.
The Federal Election Commission ruled earlier this month that political adverts posted on Twitter by outside political groups to influence the 2014 midterm elections would fall under a 2000 FCC law.
Twitter’s President Jack Dorsey said the company would “work with the FCC to protect the free speech of Americans and to provide a neutral platform for political discourse” during a December 6 tweet.
The Federal Election Commission voted on November 6, allowing Twitter to assess and ban such ads while the FCC deliberated on the issue ©Jeff Kowalsky (AFP/File)
“We’re grateful to the FCC for giving us the opportunity to respond in a transparent way to their concerns,” Dorsey said.
The agency voted on November 6, allowing Twitter to assess and ban such ads while the FCC deliberated on the issue. The FCC decides whether a piece of advertising qualifies as political speech.
But a spokesman for Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who chairs the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, blasted the decision Wednesday.
“I deeply regret that Twitter has reversed its position on election day political advertising and reinstated it,” Alexander said in a statement.
Twitter’s opposition to FEC rules applies to both its advertisements and the process it allows them to be shared, Dorsey said.
The Justice Department has warned that agencies shouldn’t let outside political entities gather on US soil for decades without a permit. The US Federal Election Commission opened an investigation into that warning last week.
– ‘Digital ice bath’ –
The FTC’s decision is a return to the previous policy of blocking and taxing Twitter ads.
But Dorsey said on Twitter Thursday that the system it created to that earlier decision was “open and transparent, with clear exceptions for the First Amendment” — a statement which led some social media users to wonder whether he had been backing a Clinton campaign or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
In response, Dorsey tweeted that he was “shocked and very disappointed” with the decision.
A spokesman for President Barack Obama said Thursday that the White House would provide “technical assistance” to Twitter to address the commission’s concerns, reiterating that the president was against efforts to intrude into free speech on Twitter.
Others, however, expressed doubts.
“A ‘we’re big Twitter’ approach isn’t likely to go well, and it’s likely it won’t keep Congress from staying in Washington,” said Peter Thiel, an influential Silicon Valley investor.
“You can’t be politically neutral and end up in a denial of the First Amendment right to free speech,” Thiel added.