Twitter Unveils New Transparency Measures for Political Ads

Advertisers will have to disclose who they are and what they‘re spending

Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Mark Warner, D-Va., conduct a news conference in the Capitol on the Honest Ads Act, which aims to make online political ads more transparent. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Twitter announced new transparency measures Tuesday that will make it easier to identify political and issue-based ads and who’s paying for them.

Twitter’s new policies come amid calls on Capitol Hill for more transparency around political advertising on digital platforms. 

The social media company is unveiling a “transparency center” that will show what ads are running on Twitter, details about how long they’ve been running and how they’re targeted to individual users, according to a Medium post. All ads — not just political ads — will be listed. 

Political ads will be marked as such. Data in the transparency center will include disclosures of how much is being spent on the ad, the identity of the group spending, demographics targeted and previous electioneering spending from the same advertiser. 

Electioneering advertisers will have to self-identify as political spenders. Twitter also says the advertisers’ targeting options will now be more limited, but it did not specify how. Violations of those policies will now come with stricter penalties, too.

Twitter wants to adopt stricter standards for issue-based ads, but that remains a work in process. 

“There is currently no clear industry definition for issue-based ads but we will work with our peer companies, other industry leaders, policy makers, and ad partners to clearly define them quickly and integrate them into the new approach mentioned above,” Bruce Falk, general manager for revenue product and engineering, wrote in the Medium post.

Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Mark Warner and GOP Sen. John McCain introduced new campaign finance legislation last week that would require digital platforms to publicly disclose paid advertisements on their sites.

The Honest Ads Act was a response to concerns about Russia’s meddling in last year’s elections. 

“We’re simply asking the companies to make a reasonable attempt so that if that ad is being paid for by a foreign agent, that they will try to reveal that foreign agent since that’s already against the law for a foreign government to interfere in American elections,” Warner told NPR last week. 

The senators want a publicly accessible record of what ads are running and who paid for them.

“I’ve run for elected office four times in Virginia,” Warner said. “There have been ads for me and against me. I think I ought to be able to go look at the content of those ads that are against me. And I think somebody ought to be able to go out, look, and see what kind of ads are running for me.”

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.