Will Twitter’s new political ad policy exempt fossil fuel companies?

Twitter may reevaluate its recently announced policy on political ads after reports indicate that it could unfairly favor, among other things, the fossil fuel industry.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced in a lengthy thread last week that the social media site would bar not only advertisements from politicians but ads for political issues as well.

“A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet,” Dorsey said. “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.”

Although the decision was widely praised, especially in light of Facebook’s controversial and opaque stance on allowing disinformation in political ads, journalist Emily Atkin alleges that companies such as Exxon would be exempt.

“Under Twitter’s new ad rules, environmental groups can’t pay to spread pro-climate policy messages,” Atkin tweeted. “But Exxon can pay to spread tweets claiming a widespread political conspiracy against it, and touting its pro-climate credentials.”

In an article, Atkin states that over a dozen tweets from the oil company are not currently labeled as political issue ads, although some are.

Atkin argues that Exxon portraying itself as a company under siege from environmentalists is a political stance in itself and that under Twitter’s new ad policy, set to begin rolling out on Nov. 22, those tweets will continue.

The issue became even more prominent on Tuesday after Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) highlighted the claim.

“Twitter’s new ad policy will allow fossil fuel companies to buy ads defending themselves and spreading misleading info—but won’t allow organizations fighting the climate crisis to buy ads holding those companies accountable,” the Democratic presidential candidate tweeted. “We need accountability.”

Dorsey responded to Warren’s tweet shortly after. Although Dorsey did not deny the allegation, he did state that the ad policy rules were still being crafted and that the issue highlighted by Warren would be taken “into consideration.”

Nick Pacilio, head of communications at Twitter, did, however, push back on Atkin’s claim.

“We haven’t announced our new political ad policy yet – it comes out on 11/15,” Pacilio said. “The article cited isn’t correct.”

The Daily Dot reached out to Nick Pacilioo and asked if he could expound on what exactly was incorrect about Atkin’s article but did not receive a reply by press time.

Given the complexity of the issue, this is unlikely to be the last time questions are raised over how Twitter will enforce its political ad policy.

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Mikael Thalen

Mikael Thalen

Mikael Thalen is a tech and security reporter based in Seattle, covering social media, data breaches, hackers, and more.