Social media platforms have come under fire in both the US and abroad for enabling the spread of extremist content and "fake news," but Twitter surprised many in Washington on Monday with its decision to block a US congresswoman's campaign ad.
The company blocked a campaign ad for Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who's running to replace retiring Sen. Bob Corker, according to the Associated Press. The ad was apparently blocked because Blackburn boasts in it that she "stopped the sale of baby body parts." Twitter reportedly deemed this an "inflammatory statement" and told Blackburn's ad vendors that the ad could run on the platform once that part of the ad was omitted.
Blackburn is referencing a misleading line of attack conservatives used against Planned Parenthood in 2015, falsely claiming the women's health care provider was profiting from the sale of fetal tissue research. Several government investigations cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing. A report produced by a congressional panel led by Blackburn included multiple inaccuracies.
Blackburn's campaign on Monday responded to Twitter's decision with another tweet, assuring supporters, "Silicon Valley won't stop our conservative movement with censorship."
While Blackburn's new advertisement may use language that some would certainly call misleading and "inflammatory," Twitter's decision to block the ad stands in contrast to its more hands-off approach to other political content. Just two weeks ago, Twitter said it was not removing President Donald Trump's tweets threatening military action against North Korea in part because of their "newsworthiness" and interest to the public.
Twitter did recently note on its public policy blog, "Internally, we already have stricter policies for advertising campaigns on Twitter than we do for organic content. We also have existing specific policies and review mechanisms for campaign ads, but will examine them with an eye to improving them."
Twitter may be compelled to clarify its policies around political content later this month: Executives from Facebook, Google, and Twitter have been asked to testify in November before the US Congress regarding Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential election.