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Stefanik objects to Twitter banning political ads

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville speaks at a Coffee With Your Congresswomen event on Oct. 10 at the Johnstown Senior Center. (Provided photo — Briana O’Hara, The Leader-Herald)

On Monday U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik said she opposes Twitter’s decision to ban all political advertising on its social media platform. She said the move limits free speech for candidates and campaigns.

On Oct. 30 Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that the company will stop all political advertising, including for campaigns, saying the decision was not about freedom of speech.

“We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought,” Dorsey wrote in the tweet thread announcing the policy change.

The policy will not affect tweets from the personal or governmental accounts of politicians, but it will not allow those accounts, or any others supporting a political figure or cause, to purchase sponsored tweets.

As Facebook has been embroiled in controversy over its decision to not remove untrue political ads on its platform, Twitter has avoided that conundrum by banning political ads altogether.

Stefanik said she believes politicians should be able to have the same advertising rights as any other individual or business.

“I think when it comes to any of these social media or digital platforms, that candidates and campaigns should be able to put out their messages and their advertisements,” Stefanik said in a phone interview. “I think it’s important for voters to get the information themselves from the candidates. … Just like businesses, just like community organizations, just like different brands and just like publications in our district, we should be able to use those digital platforms for advertising purposes.”

She said her campaign has never advertised on Twitter, however; it has focused more on Facebook. Her campaign has spent $13,780.32 on Facebook advertisements throughout her current campaign, according to Federal Election Commission data.

Tedra Cobb, the Democratic challenger for New York’s 21st Congressional District seat in the 2020 election, has not spent money directly on social media advertising but has spent $46,498 on the digital marketing company Blueprint Interactive, according to FEC data.

Cobb was contacted for this story but did not reply for comment.

Stefanik said she believes this is a freedom-of-speech issue and that Twitter’s decision may unfairly impact rural and first-time candidates.

“Having the ability to use social media to publish campaign ads is critical for underfunded and challenger candidates who may not have the resources to purchase traditional (and expensive) TV ads,” Stefanik tweeted Monday.

She said in NY21 the four major television markets — Albany, Watertown, Utica and Burlington, Vermont — sit at the outer edges of the district and have many out-of-district viewers. Digital advertising is more focused and affordable, she said.

When Stefanik first ran for Congress in 2013 she posted her paperwork to file on Instagram, making her the first candidate for Congress to do so.

Dorsey acknowledged the worry that the ban could favor incumbents, but he said he believes social movement can reach a massive scale without advertising.

“This isn’t about free expression,” Dorsey wrote. “This is about paying for reach. And paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle.”

Dorsey listed a number of problems political ads on social media present, including unchecked misleading information, micro-targeting and “deepfakes,” which fraudulently edit video, audio or images to misrepresent and impersonate political leaders or others.

“It’s worth stepping back in order to address,” he tweeted.

Stefanik said she thinks voters should be able to determine whether an advertised political message is true or not.

“There’s a freedom of speech in the country to put out information to make sure voters know,” Stefanik said. “And voters have the opportunity to assess the candidates themselves.”

When asked about Facebook’s policy of not removing paid advertisements that spread misinformation, Stefanik said she wants Facebook to remove falsehoods posted by foreign influencers but not from domestic campaigns.

“There are examples where there is disinformation from foreign nations; we absolutely need to crack down on that,” Stefanik said. “But when it comes to campaigns and candidates, we’re responsible for the content that we’re putting out there.”

She said organizations such as news media outlets are open to analyze political messages.

Stefanik and Dorsey agreed on a need to improve regulations on ads on the internet. Stefanik supports requiring digital ads to have same disclosure as TV, print or radio ads, also known as the “paid for by” line.

Stefanik has introduced the “Honest Ads Act” to the House, which would call for better monitoring of online advertising by the FEC.

Twitter’s worldwide ban affects ads for political “issues,” too. The company will share its final policy by Nov. 15 and will start enforcing it on Nov. 22.