Twitter Kills Political Advertising, Keeps Bot Farms
Twitter Kills Political Advertising, Keeps Bot Farms
Twitter CEO announces the company will stop all political advertising. Because taking direct advertising dollars for ads is disingenuous. But allowing bot farms with millions of fake tweets holds no influence? This is social grandstanding, and increases the threat of subversive information. If Twitter will no longer verify the influencer source authenticity, are they truly protecting their consumer?
Essentially with this announcement, Jack Dorsey anointed his company the protector of the social media integrity.
“We’ve made the decision to stop all political advertising on Twitter globally,” Dorsey wrote in a Twitter thread. “A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet. Paying for reach removes that decision, forcing highly optimized and targeted political messages on people. We believe this decision should not be compromised by money.”
But, are users any safer from subtle influence and advanced persuasion techniques? Probably not. Before picking up the mantle of “Pseudo Integrity”, Twitter verified political advertisers and affiliations. Their policy includes restrictions and clear labeling of sources.
Political campaigning ads refers to ads that fall under any of the criteria listed below:
Once certified, political campaigning advertisers will be prompted to use “Paid for by” and “Authorized /not authorized” disclaimers. Disclaimers must not be misleading and match website or certification application.
The policy seems solid. It requires identifying information and funding sources to be listed. Additionally, it restricts participation to US entities, presumably reducing overt foreign influence. The consumer is exposed to targeted information, but it’s labeled and disseminated as advertising.
The informed consumer is a good consumer. If there is content from the DNC it’s going to be skewed to the left. A Twitter hit job on the NRA from Moms Demand Action PAC, and the bias is clear. Labeling advertisement providers, and their funding sources, is integral to providing a clearly defined user interaction. Twitter’s policy helped protect the user because it clearly labeled the source.
Marketing is a multi-billion dollar business. As consumers, our information is a perpetual goldmine for advertising. Overt and covert targeting by advertisers is pervasive throughout history. If they ever truly decipher early cave drawings, they will probably find that it’s actually a billboard advertisement.
In our modern world, Artificial Intelligence interacts with humans on every level of our lives. AI stores data, and it uses that information to influence our perceptions and even public policy. AI uses Social Media as a means to direct the conversations to particular topics. In an article about invisible Twitter bot influence Professor Elena Karahanna states,
“We know from prior research that boycotts and protests that attract mainstream media attention are in a better position to get their demands met … It appears that a lot of movements are using bots to increase awareness of their cause on social media with hopes to be reported by the mainstream media. And if that is indeed the case, it is definitely one way to put pressure on organizations or governments to do something.”
With the advance of AI influence, we don’t even recognize that we are being sold on an idea or perception.
In their own research Twitter “identified 50,258 automated accounts that were Russian-linked and Tweeting election-related content, totaling 2.12 million Tweets.” Those Tweets were shared countless times. Once a Tweet leaves the barn, it isn’t coming back. It’s going viral. The review includes Iran and Venezuela (aka Russian) as sources for hundreds more fake accounts.
The conclusion by their research stands in contrast to their forthcoming policy regarding political ads.
“There were no promoted Tweets, and no money spent by these accounts on advertising.”
Huh?! I’m confused. Isn’t the point of removing paid advertising to prevent targeted influence? Yet by Twitter’s own research, millions of tweets reached countless people… and were neither promoted or paid advertising. Perhaps advertising isn’t the problem. Could it be bots? According to Twitter’s Head of Site Integrity, Yoel Roth,
“It is clear that information operations and coordinated inauthentic behavior will not cease. These types of tactics have been around for far longer than Twitter has existed — they will adapt and change as the geopolitical terrain evolves worldwide and as new technologies emerge.”
I think what he’s saying, is that AI will continue to advance and learn how best to influence human perception and actions. Also, that Twitter is playing catch-up to stop them.
Or are they? Who decides if a tweet or account is bot influenced? Twitter decides. Without the option of paid advertising, Twitter becomes the only gatekeeper to the voices on a popular media platform. Do their bot hunters focus on “Alt-right” accounts, while ANTIFA is unrestricted? Are conservative voices stifled while progressive voices are magnified? Without paid advertising, the voices being stifled have no ability to counter the unfettered opposition.
Advertisements are annoying. But the consumer understands them, and can make a choice about the information based on the source. If Twitter was truly concerned about undue influence, they would take that Ad revenue and dump 100% of it into finding ways to combat AI’s soft influence. University of California computer researcher Emilio Ferrara makes a great point about AI influence in his research paper,
“Our study further corroborates this idea that there is an arms race between bots and detection algorithms. As social media companies put more efforts to mitigate abuse and stifle automated accounts, bots evolve to mimic human strategies. Advancements in AI enable bots producing more human-like content. We need to devote more efforts to understand how bots evolve and how more sophisticated ones can be detected. With the upcoming 2020 US elections, the integrity of social media discourse is of paramount importance to allow a democratic process free of external influences.”
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