Haley Fine

Ad Transparency on Twitter

On October 24, 2017, Twitter announced its plans to roll out a number of policies aimed at increasing the transparency of on-site advertisements.1 This shift comes about one month after the platform publicized its discovery of approximately 200 accounts with suspected ties to Russia and a number of ads purchased by Russia Today (RT), a Kremlin-backed news outlet.2 Twitter will now allow a user to see who created an ad, how long the ad has been up and running on the platform, and how the ad was targeted towards the user specifically.3

Part of the new transparency commitment includes the creation of an “Advertising Transparency Center.” A user can access information about all current ads—political or other—on the platform and any photos or videos associated with them by visiting the center.4 The center will also include give users access to information on which ads have been specifically targeted towards them.5 And, though nonpolitical ads will likely remain visible to users on Twitter for a week after their end dates, political ads will remain visible for an even longer period of time.6

Twitter plans to distinguish political ads from others by including a purple dot next to the user handle and a “promoted by” label along the bottom.7 Users will have access to information on who has paid for a political ad and how to learn more about the purchaser, including spending history and ad targeting practices.8 Twitter will also implement more stringent requirements for who may purchase political ads on the platform, including a requirement that electioneering advertisers self-identify as such.9 Furthermore, Twitter intends to limit targeting options for advertisers and implement stronger penalties for those who violate the platform’s transparency requirements.10

Twitter’s policy changes are a part of a major shift within the technology industry towards transparency in the traditionally secretive business of advertising. They also coincide with and are likely in reaction to the Honest Ads Act, a new effort to regulate political ads on social media platforms.11 Introduced on October 19, the bill proposes to regulate online political advertising in the same way as political ads on television, radio, and in print.12 The Honest Ads Act would require online platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Google to create publicly available repositories of political ads and provide users with data on how much the advertisers spent on the ad, the identity of the advertisers, and their contact information.13

Twitter acted on its commitment on October 26 by announcing its immediate ban on all ads from Russian news agencies Sputnik and RT.14 The policy change stems from the resounding consensus that the two attempted, on behalf of the Russian government, to interfere with the U.S. presidential election.15 Twitter said it would donate its projected $1.9 million in earnings from RT global advertising, including $274,100 in US-based advertising, to fund external research on Twitter’s role in “civic engagement and elections, including use of malicious automation and misinformation, with an initial focus on elections and automation.”16 Sputnik and RT will still be able to keep their accounts, according to the statement.17

GLTR Staff Member; Georgetown Law, J.D. expected 2018; Brandeis University, BA, 2014. ©2018, Haley Fine.