Culture Wars Rage on Social Media

Scene from WC Movie

Pictured:  Scene from one of W.C. Fields’ immortal movies, You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man.  Well, you can’t fool voters who don’t want to be fooled either.  But…, read on.

Twitter Calls it Quits on Political Ads

Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO, made news on October 30th when he Twitted,

We’ve made the decision to stop all political advertising on Twitter globally. We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought.

The ban, which will contain some exceptions, will take effect November 22. Guidelines will be published November 15, according to Jack Dorsey.

The Twitter Announcement is Big News

Banning political ads on any social media platform these days is not only big but huge.
Commercial TV viewing is not what it used to be. Cable networks do not need to abide by the same rules as do broadcast networks (requirements for equal time afforded to opposing views and prohibition of “censorship” do not apply to Cable political ads). A vast number of people obtain their “news” from social media platforms.

Advertisers, including political advertisers, are able to pitch their message to highly targeted audiences when advertising on social media. As everyone should know, targeted ads are the holy grail of all advertisers. A candidate for political office will search for targeted audiences as fiercely as will a seller of baby playpens.

These factors make social media platforms valuable assets in raising awareness for candidates, legislation, issues, and most importantly cultural trends.

The Cultural Initiative

In an earlier post on the Just Vote No Blog there was reference to Andrew Breitbart’s quote “Politics is downstream from culture.”

This is powerful stuff. Change the culture and political change will follow. Today the most likely place to change cultural trends is social media. Thus the battle for who determines the content of platforms like Twitter or Facebook. Of particular interest these days are the skirmishes over political “lies” on social media. Here are a couple of examples, not from Twitter, but from Facebook.

* Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, recently endured five hours of questioning during a Congressional hearing supposedly intended to discuss Facebook’s proposed alternative currency Libra.  However, not much of what transpired during the hearing had to do with Libra. The majority of Congressional comments zeroed in on Facebook’s policy regarding political ads, which supposedly does not call for fact checking such ads.

During the hearing Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked Mr. Zuckerberg,

You announced recently that the official policy of Facebook now allows politicians to pay to spread disinformation in 2020 elections and in the future. So I just want to know how far I can push this in the next year…

So, you won’t take down lies or you will take down lies? I think that’s just a pretty simple yes or no.

Once again during this interminable hearing, unable to respond with a “simple yes or no,” Zuckerberg found himself at a loss for words.

* Senator Elizabeth Warren engaged in a clever strategy with a Facebook campaign ad that ran on October 10.

If Trump tries to lie in a TV ad, most networks will refuse to air it. But Facebook just cashes Trump’s checks.

Since FCC rules prohibits “censorship” on broadcasting networks (not counting Cable), Warren came up with the brilliant fine print on the ad claiming that her campaign included purposefully incorrect information to test whether Facebook will post untruthful ads.

It should be an obvious question what Ocasio-Cortez and Warren consider lies to be. In politics facts and untruths are often interchangeable.

Given the quantity of political ads social media such as Facebook and Twitter receive, as well as the complexity of issues involved in such ads, it would be fair to ask how accurate, cost effective, and blow-back free fact checking all of them would be. For example, what would a fact checker do with a political ad that mentioned the “climate crisis?”

The word “lies” has joined the lexicon designed to change culture and chance politics. Point deficits in any candidate or legislation and run the risk of being branded a racist, a homophobe, a baby killer, a liar, or some other weaponized set of adjectives.

It is no wonder that Twitter decided to call it quits, at least for the moment, on political ads.

As an Aside

Here the discussion purposefully leaves out questions such as political benefits that might or might not accrue to shareholders of social media for supporting or not supporting political sides, and possible algorithmic or human decisions on the reach of unpaid posts. Those could perhaps constitute strategies as powerful as paid ads, but outside the purview of the present discussion.