Unlike Facebook, Twitter’s new ad rules give media outlets a free pass

Twitter announced a new disclosure policy for political advertising on Wednesday, and its approach is very similar to Facebook’s, in that brands or publishers who promote content about political issues will have to be approved, and their ads go into a special database where everyone can see who paid for them. Twitter’s policy is dramatically different in one important way, however: Twitter says news outlets get an exemption for promoted tweets that involve political content.

Facebook’s decision to include promoted posts by news organizations in its political ad pool sparked a firestorm of criticism earlier this year from a number of publishers, including The New York Times. The paper’s CEO, Mark Thompson, said that Facebook was “supporting the enemies of quality journalism” with the policy, and the head of the News Media Alliance said the disclosure requirement was dangerous because it “undermines journalists and plays into the hands of authoritarians,” by blurring the line between advertising and reporting.

Despite repeated complaints from publishers, however, Facebook seems to be steadfast in its belief that putting promoted news stories into the same pool as regular political ads is the way to go. Head of News Campbell Brown has acknowledged the industry’s criticisms in a number of interviews, and said she is sensitive to the charges that Facebook’s approach was misleading, but has refused to give media companies a blanket exemption, saying she preferred to deal with publishers on a case-by-case basis.

In a blog post about the changes, Twitter said the intention of its new policy is to “provide the public with greater transparency into ads that seek to influence people’s stance on issues that may influence election outcomes,” and the company doesn’t believe ads for political stories from news organizations should be included. Sources close to Twitter say the service made a deliberate decision to take the opposite course when it saw the controversy erupt over Facebook’s new policy.

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And who gets to be exempt from Twitter’s new rules? The company says a publisher must have a minimum of 200,000 monthly unique visitors in the US, and must make contact information and background details about its editorial staff available on its site. It must also have searchable archives online, and can’t be primarily devoted to user-generated content, or advocating on a single political issue (Twitter makes it clear these are preliminary requirements, and that it is open to adjusting some of them if necessary).

As for why the company decided to take the exact opposite approach to Facebook when it comes to promoted news content, there are a number of theories. The most obvious is that Twitter saw an opportunity to gain an advantage on its competitor by being more friendly towards news organizations. It was once the preferred network for publishers, but then Facebook came along with promises of much larger reach and revenue. Did Twitter see a chance to even the playing field a little? Perhaps. Whether that will encourage Facebook to change its mind, or give publishers more leverage to convince it to do so, remains to be seen.

Image via Pixabay.

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Mathew Ingram is CJR's chief digital writer. Previously, he was a senior writer with Fortune magazine. He has written about the intersection between media and technology since the earliest days of the commercial internet. His writing has been published in The Washington Post and the Financial Times as well as Reuters and Bloomberg.