Twitter will now clearly label political ads on its social platform and is committing to stricter guidelines for ad targeting.
The change comes amid increasing pressure from lawmakers after evidence came out that groups associated with the Russian government used Twitter, Facebook, Google, and other platforms to spread divisive messages before and after the 2016 election.
Twitter’s voluntary move follows the introduction of a new effort to regulate political ads on social platforms called the “Honest Ads Act.” Congress is also holding a hearing on Nov. 1 to speak with employees of Twitter, Google, and Facebook about Russian ads during the 2016 election.
Twitter shared in a blog post Tuesday it will most likely include a purple dot next to the user handle as well as a purple box below the tweet that names the sponsor on political ads.
The company is going by the Federal Election Commission’s definition for political ads, which includes promotions for a candidate 30 days ahead of a primary election and 60 days ahead of a general election.
Twitter also will institute stricter guidelines on targeting for political ads. Political ads will not be able to use all of Twitter’s targeting options and offenders will be penalized. Twitter did not share what the specifics were in the blog post.
For the first time, Twitter will provide a public database of all ads currently on the platform. Users will be able to see which ads are targeted to them and under what criteria. This site also will include political ads.
Facebook made a similar commitment last month. Every Facebook Page will list what ads they are running, CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed in a Facebook Live.
Sen. Mark Warner, who is co-sponsoring the Honest Ads Act, called Twitter’s changes “a good first step.”
All of these moves have been made after a slow awakening by the general public and the U.S. government as to the power of and lack of regulation around digital ads following the 2016 election. Trump’s digital campaign director Brad Parscale repeatedly lauded Twitter and Facebook as key reasons for their victory.
After Facebook disclosed it uncovered 3,000 Russian-linked ads, Twitter reported it had discovered about 200 accounts linked to Russia. The company released a lengthy blog post outlining its work to identify these accounts and deal with the presence of misinformation and “malicious bots” going forward.
Twitter has come forward saying it needs and will do more to combat misinformation on its network. But it has still struggled with how to regulate political ads following the 2016 election. Earlier this month, Twitter reversed a decision to ban a political ad that inaccurately referred to an abortion as the “sale of baby body parts.”
Initially, Twitter had decided the ad from Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn violated its policies since it contained an “inflammatory statement that is likely to evoke a strong negative reaction.” However, Twitter then backed down.
“While we initially determined that a small portion of the video used potentially inflammatory language, after reconsidering the ad in the context of the entire message, we believe that there is room to refine our policies around these issues,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement.
The blog post Tuesday said that Twitter is still working to determine the best policy for these types of political ads. The company cited that there is “currently no clear industry definition for issue-based ads.”
So, in summary, everything is still a work in progress over at Twitter HQ, but moves are being made. Twitter has recently taken a harder stance on hate speech and released a roadmap for changes to come.