ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Twitter says it will stop running political ads ahead of the 2020 election.
That decision has sparked national debate about fairness, free speech, and the role social media now plays in politics.
But the impact might actually be felt hardest at the local level. That’s where smaller races with smaller budgets have come to rely on social media to get their message out . An increasingly important role in local politics.
“They’re the ones without the money. They are the ones without the reach,” said Joshua Scacco, a political professor at the University of South Florida. “And they are the ones with voters that they need to target at a very fine grain level to be able to get up their supporters.”
Scacco says Twitter’s decision to pull the plug on political ads might stir debate in Washington, but the real effects will be felt on Main Street USA. That’s where digital platforms have given a space for grassroots campaigns to gain traction. Candidates and causes that might not otherwise have a voice.
“The chances of, potentially, candidates with less money or with less visibility not being heard go up significantly because of this decision,” said Scacco.
Twitter’s decision comes on the heels of Facebook‘s recent vow to take a completely opposite tact. Not only did they vow to post political ads but promised to do so without verification.
The potential for mis-information versus no information has set the stage for a digital dilemma.
“I can see why Twitter would kind of want to not have people lying, from either side – lying about stuff. Trying to gain more ground,” said Tyler Zastrow, a USF student.
Jaden Jones says she doesn’t like the idea of mis-information either but disagrees with Twitter’s all-or-nothing approach.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” said Jones, “Just because I feel like everyone’s entitled to their own opinion and they should have a platform to be able to express that opinion.”
Twitter is a private company, so, unlike government or government regulated media it has no first-amendment obligation to provide a place for people to express themselves.
Still, Travis Horn, who’s worked as a Political Consultant in the Tampa Bay area, says Twitter’s decision might reignite debate over whether digital media companies should be regulated
“It has been a game changer and leveled the playing field in the past,” said Horn. “These social media platforms with large followings, they have invested a lot to cultivate these followings, but that doesn’t give them carte blanche to do anything they want.”
Political experts say if Twitter sticks by its decision it could benefit competitors like Facebook. It might also open the door for new social media platforms that would post political ads and then let users determine the truthfulness of that content.
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