Boston City Council candidates react to Twitter ban on political ads

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced on Wednesday, Oct. 30 that the company would cease its political advertising services, saying votes should not be bought. Screenshot by Alex Hemmer/ BU News Service

By Alex Hemmer 
BU News Service

BOSTON — Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey received more than 500,000 reactions within 24 hours when he tweeted that the company had decided to end its political advertising features. In an 11-tweet thread posted on Wednesday, Dorsey insisted on the idea that politicians should be earning their votes rather than buying them. 

With many candidates relying on paid social media content as a means of reaching voters online, the decision could affect political campaigns across the country, including those in Boston.

Liz Breadon, who is running for City Councilor in District 9, was among the candidates who weighed in. 

“I wholeheartedly agree with the ban,” Breadon said in a statement Thursday to BU News Service, expressing her strong support for the social media company’s decision to restrict political content. “Twitter’s policy of not accepting paid political ads takes the advantage of campaign money off the table and quiets its voice.”

Breadon further explained how the ban could help ensure a level playing field among candidates, emphasizing that donation policies may differ from campaign to campaign.

“Because my campaign has not taken money from anyone who stands to profit from any position or policy I may take as City Councilor – lobbyists or real estate investors, for example – my opponent has raised approximately three times the amount I have raised,” Breadon said.

Craig Cashman, Breadon’s opponent responded to the comment, emphasizing that Massachusetts’s open campaign finance laws allow for constituents to evaluate claims such as this.

“I have accepted donations from neighbors who do development and work in real estate,” Cashman said in a statement.

Other candidates were not as concerned with the impact that Twitter’s policy change could have on local elections. Erin Murphy, who is campaigning for District 3’s City Councilor-at-Large, relies on other methods to promote her platform in Boston.

“I don’t think it will have much of an impact on local elections like ours since most local candidates don’t use Twitter much for ads or digital reach,” a spokesperson for Murphy’s campaign said. “We use local newspapers, mailings and Facebook.”

Unlike its tech giant counterpart, Facebook has chosen not to restrict politicians online, claiming that the billion-dollar social media company is not responsible for what political candidates might choose to say or publish. 

Democratic presidential candidates are reportedly some of the largest investors in Facebook’s political advertisements, having spent millions of dollars to target voters of specific demographics. Bernie Sanders was listed as one of the highest spenders, having invested at least half a million to reach younger voters. 

Despite Facebook’s stance, Dorsey said he believes that the ability to pay for highly optimized content should come with responsibility. 

“While internet advertising is incredibly powerful and very effective for commercial advertisers, that power brings significant risks to politics where it can be used to influence votes to affect the lives of millions,” the CEO tweeted.

For candidates like Liz Breadon, the policy change promises the possibility of combatting disinformation among voters. 

“There is no way the platform can vet for truth,” she said. “By Twitter not carrying ads, voters are less likely to be subjected to falsehoods.”

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