Social-media giants — particularly Twitter — are considering bans on advertisements that support “unlawful candidates, advocacy groups, or causes.” The company gave no indication that it would apply those restrictions to pro-Trump ads.
These restrictions could have far-reaching consequences. But they could also help out politically active groups that use bots to amplify their message.
Widening the definition of “illegal groups”: Some Twitter users object to targeting groups that have, for example, been labelled, through investigations, as part of a violent or terrorist group. Some of those groups are represented by lawyers—with the effect of striking Twitter’s own targeted advertising policy.
Instead of banning groups with criminal records, your announcement ... likely sparked an outcry among Twitter users. Notice anyone who was previously banned by you for aiding, abetting, sponsoring, inciting, or glorifying terrorism—or who might otherwise be banned now that you’ve widened the list from illegal or terrorist groups to illegal, false, or disinformation activity or groups?
The users that responded to the ad ban received a message from the company, noting that Twitter prohibits “hateful conduct,” “illicit payment,” “other attacks on Twitter users,” and “one of the following: violence or sexually-orientated content.”
But the “other attacks on Twitter users” by the company are specific to all of its “other” groups, which includes political campaigns, advocacy groups, and “anti-government activity,” as well as “implementing negative propaganda or misinformation.”
A flood of denials and defensive statements: It’s easy to sound hysterical in response to any ban on ads, or policy changes that require users to filter out adverts. In this case, Twitter is trying to remove ads that are used to support or promote “political advocacy.” One of the ways they are allegedly used: A “select group” of bots then replicates those ads to large audiences.
Of course, people fear that once they click a tweet, they’re giving permission to a third party—and vulnerable to a subsequent attack. The bots don’t have full control over the ad, though. Rather, they can only help amplify what was already effectively a campaign.
How quickly can we direct attention to this phenomenon of fake accounts and campaign bot infestation and ramp up the pressure?
It’s hard to set up an effective policing system online. But a good and aggressive rule of thumb: In the era of fast-moving, emotive social-media content, every law is only “new” on the weekend.
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