In response to increased scrutiny over Russia-bought ads that targeted Americans during the 2016 election, Twitter has announced new measures to increase transparency around ads purchased on its service.
The company says it will now disclose the total cost of all ad campaigns and share who purchased them. Information will also be made available to users about ads that specifically targeted them, as well as which personalized information made them eligible for such targeting.
Moreover, Twitter said it will now require ads associated with political parties and candidates to be clearly identified. “To make it clear when you are seeing or engaging with an electioneering ad, we will now require that electioneering advertisers identify their campaigns as such,” the company said. “We will also change the look and feel of these ads and include a visual political ad indicator.”’
Twitter also plans to impose stricter rules around who can serve political ads and “limit targeting options,” the company said.
“We are committed to stricter policies and transparency around issue-based ads,” said Bruce Falck, Twitter’s revenue product and engineering manager. While there is “no clear industry definition” for issue-based ads, he said, Twitter intends to work with industry leaders, policy makers, and ad partners to quickly define and integrate them into its new approach.
Twitter said it intends to roll the new updates out first in the US and then globally. The changes will certainly help users identify political ads more readily, but will have no effect on the many other forms of state-sponsored propaganda haunting the platform.
On Twitter, Sen. Mark Warner, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, praised the move as a “good first step,” saying: “Online political ads need more transparency and disclosure.” Warner is one of three US senators to cosponsor the Honest Ads Act, new bipartisan legislation aimed at aligning rules for online advertising with those currently imposed on television and radio broadcasters.
The Honest Ads Act would apply to any entity that spends cumulatively more than $500 on political ads in an election cycle, and any platform that reaches more than 50 million unique users per month.
Twitter had not previously indicated whether it would support the bill, saying only that it looked forward to “engaging with Congress and the [Federal Elections Commission]” on the issue. With this new policy, however, it appears the company is prepared to fully acquiesce to the provisions contained in the bill—a bipartisan companion to which has also been introduced in the House.
Representatives from Twitter, along with Facebook and Google, are set appear before Congress next month and testify as part of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. During the campaign, foreign-bought ads on social media, as well as other types of posts and pages drafted by a St. Petersburg-based propaganda outfit, are said to have reached millions of American voters.