Twitter’s Ban on Paid Political Speech Follows Anti-Speech Headwinds from Washington

'My Democratic colleagues have threatened to impose huge regulatory liability on platforms that run political ads -- and now a prominent platform has preemptively decided that allowing certain kinds of political speech is more trouble than it’s worth.'

WASHINGTON, D.C.U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks today on the Senate floor discussing the First Amendment:

“I have come to the floor frequently in recent months to warn about dangerous anti-speech, anti-First-Amendment headwinds blowing out of Washington D.C.

“I’ve warned about proposals from our Democratic colleagues that seemed tailor-made to chill the free exchange of ideas and make it more difficult for Americans to engage in political speech.

“Just a few days ago, on October 23rd, I explained how the threat of a heavy regulatory burden has already, quote, “frightened media platforms into rejecting political ads altogether. It’s a textbook example of policy designed to reduce the amount of free speech in this country.” End quote.

“And then, seven days later, here’s what happened: Twitter announced their platform will ban all political ads.

“The online platform is banning advertisements for candidates for office and political campaigns. What is more, they say they are also banning “issue ads,” which do not even reference a specific campaign but merely seek to give one perspective on a subject.

“Twitter’s leadership has tried to produce a rationale for banishing paid political speech. But the argument boils down to the same misunderstandings that have been used to undermine free speech for decades

“Here is what Twitter’s CEO said: “We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought.” This kind of surface-level argument may sound good at first. But it quickly gives way to an arbitrary process of picking winners and losers in the competition of ideas.

“Here’s what I mean. Twitter’s new rules would seem to forbid either a small liberal nonprofit or a small conservative nonprofit from putting money behind an issue ad to amplify their perspective.

“But what about the press? Will media corporations large and small remain free to buy paid advertising to promote editorials and opinion writers? Will cable news networks and national newspapers remain free to advertise their political speech?

“It would seem, that Twitter will either have to ban opinion journalists and the press from advertising their own work, or else create an enormous double standard that would just amplify the already-privileged speakers who already possess multi-million-dollar platforms.

“It would just help clear the field for these elites by denying the same tools to fledgling speakers who are not already famous.

“Consider this: Back in July, the CEO of Twitter praised two Democratic presidential candidates in a Twitter post of his own.

“This gentleman has 4.3 million followers. It seems fair to conclude that these subscribers have not followed him solely due to the standalone merits of his commentary, but in part because they are interested to hear from a powerful person who runs a hugely influential company.

“And of course Twitter has worked hard and spent money for years to grow its business and make itself famous – efforts that have raised the profile of their CEO.

“There’s nothing wrong with that, Mr. / Madam President. But it illustrates the impossibility of any top-down standard to determine who has “earned” an audience.

“How many millions of dollars go into publicity campaigns for Hollywood actors, or musicians, or media personalities? How many millions of dollars in advertising and corporate strategy have made CNN, FOX, MSNBC, and the New York Times into what they are today?

“When these people and these institutions speak out on politics, are they using megaphones they have earned, or megaphones that have been bought? Obviously such distinctions are impossible to draw. This is exactly why the act of free speech is not separate from the resources that make speech possible.

“Twitter’s announced policy would not level the playing field. It would only reinforce echo chambers. It would prevent a local candidate on a shoestring budget from using a small amount of money to promote a tweet so more of his neighbors can learn about his campaign. And it would seemingly reserve a special privilege for major media corporations while denying nonprofits the same opportunity.

“Such a policy would not bolster our democracy. It would degrade democracy. It would amplify the advantage of media companies, celebrities, and certain other established elites while denying an important tool to the Americans who disagree with them.

“My personal view is that the American people do not need elites to pre-determine which political speakers are legitimate and which are not. I believe that holds true whether the elites live in Washington D.C., or Silicon Valley, or anywhere else.

“Obviously, Twitter can set whatever policy they want. This is a private-sector company. But companies respond to incentives. It is easy to see the influence of Washington D.C. and leading Democrats behind this announcement.

“My Democratic colleagues have threatened to impose huge regulatory liability on platforms that run political ads. . .and now a prominent platform has preemptively decided that allowing certain kinds of political speech is more trouble than it’s worth.

“It does not serve our democracy for Democratic leaders to chill or suppress the free exchange of ideas through federal policy. And it does not serve our democracy for private-sector leaders to take away a crucial tool that helps less-prominent speakers make their case to the American people.”

Related Issues: First Amendment, Campaigns & Elections