As the national conversation surrounding the role of social media companies in influencing elections continues to heat up in the run-up to the 2020 elections, Twitter and Google have taken drastic and controversial steps to strengthen their internal political advertising policies.
Social media platforms have faced growing scrutiny since the 2016 election, as various investigations have verified that foreign actors exploited weaknesses in their digital advertising rules to spread misinformation through targeted political outreach. In light of these findings, technology companies are under mounting pressure from the public and Congress to push back against the spread of political disinformation through their platforms.
In November, Twitter became the first social media provider to institute a ban on political advertising across its platform. The ban took effect on November 22, following an October 30 announcement from CEO Jack Dorsey and the November 22 release of the full policy to the public. The ban applies to any promoted political advertisements intended to influence elections and ballot measures. Under its new rules, all political advertisements, whether from campaigns, government officials (elected or appointed), PACs or 501(c)(4) groups, that mention specific candidates, elections or legislation will be banned. These restricted sources will also be prohibited from running any paid/promoted advertisements on Twitter’s platform under the political ad ban. Guidance published by Twitter identifies “political content” as any content that includes references to a candidate, political party, government official, election, referendum, ballot measure, legislation, regulation, directive or judicial outcome. While candidates and government officials will no longer be able to launch promoted advertisements to targeted audiences on Twitter, there are no restrictions on what individual user accounts can post or share with existing followers. Additionally, any advertisements run by restricted sources that contain references to political content (e.g., appeals for votes, solicitations of financial support, and advocacy for or against political content) are banned under the new policy.
In addition to instituting a blanket ban on political advertisements, Twitter’s new policy seeks to place restrictions on targeted digital advertisements for high-profile social issues, such as climate change, gun control, and abortion. Individuals and groups will no longer be able to target social-issue ads to a user’s zip code or political identification. Instead, targeted advertisements will be restricted to broad geographical zones, such as states. News outlets will be exempted from the advertising ban provided posts/ads do not advocate for a specific political outcome. Organizations (including businesses and 501(c)(3) organizations) and activists will not be completely blocked from running ads on the platform however. Advertisements that focus on broadly defined political causes and social issues will still be permitted from non-restricted sources so long as posts refrain from advocating for/against candidates, elections or legislative proposals.
Google, not to be outdone, announced on November 20 that it would likewise be curtailing how political candidates and organizations are allowed to advertise on its platform moving forward. The new policy, which will take effect on January 6, 2020, does not outright ban certain groups from making political ads like Twitter does, but instead seeks to limits targeted election messaging by political organizations and candidates to three general categories of age, gender and location (down to the postal code level) in the US. This shift in permissible targeting categories contrasts with Google’s current advertising policies, which allows political ad targeting to specific audiences using personal user information such as political affiliation and voting records. Google’s new policy will also prohibit ads containing demonstrably false claims or misleading information that have the potential to undermine participation or trust in an electoral or democratic process. Examples of prohibited ads provided by company officials in this context include communications that falsely claimed that a candidate has died or ads that gave the wrong date for an election, but it is not clear how much further this false content screening mechanism will stretch. Google does claim, however, that its new policies will not attempt to regulate the veracity of ads containing standard political speech on which opposing political sides may disagree.
While Facebook has refrained from implementing an outright ban on political ads, the company unveiled more stringent disclosure rules for political communications in September. Industry insiders are expecting the company to join Twitter and Google in the near future, however. These self-regulatory efforts by America’s Silicon Valley technology giants are being closely watched by lawmakers and regulators at the federal and state levels as government officials weigh whether and how to wade into the fray over political speech on the Internet. It remains to be seen how effective these self-imposed measures will be at deterring foreign and other bad actors from spreading political disinformation as the first presidential primaries of the 2020 election cycle draw near. The Dentons Political Law Team will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as necessary.
As developments in the Trump impeachment inquiry continue to unfold, Dentons’ Public Policy group has created a quick reference guide to the current status of this fast-moving process. Enclosed please find “Impeachment on a Page” for the week of November 25, 2019.
As developments in the Trump impeachment inquiry continue to unfold, Dentons’ Public Policy group has created a quick reference guide to the current status of this fast-moving process. Enclosed please find “Impeachment on a Page” for the week of November 11, 2019.
As developments in the Trump impeachment inquiry continue to unfold, Dentons’ Public Policy group has created a quick reference guide to the current status of this fast-moving process. Enclosed please find “Impeachment on a Page” for the week of November 4, 2019.
As developments in the Trump impeachment inquiry continue to unfold, Dentons’ Public Policy group has created a quick reference guide to the current status of this fast-moving process. Enclosed please find “Impeachment on a Page” for the week of October 28, 2019.
A major player in the impeachment inquiry tragically passed away since our last update. On the morning of October 17, House Oversight Committee Chairman, Elijah Cummings died due to complications from longstanding health challenges. Cummings was at the forefront of the impeachment process and one of the top Democratic leaders. Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) will serve as interim chair until a new permanent chair is selected, but there is no word at this time as to who may be selected. We here at Dentons offer our condolences to his family and friends.
As for the current state of play, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell told Senate Republicans last week that he believes the articles of impeachment will be approved in the House by Thanksgiving and hopes the Senate trial will be completed by Christmas. Speaker Pelosi reiterated that the timeline depends on getting all of the facts. McConnell also clarified that Chief Justice John Roberts will preside over the Senate trial. Also last week, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told reporters that the Trump administration withheld $400 million in military aid to Ukraine in return for investigations. For Democrats, Mulvaney’s statement all but confirms the premise of the impeachment inquiry that the Ukraine scandal did involve a quid pro quo. Mulvaney walked back on his statement hours later claiming there was no quid pro quo, a talking point Republicans have pushed since the transcript of the call was released.
It was a busy week for testimony. Top Russia advisor Fiona Hill testified in front of lawmakers on Monday that senior officials were deeply concerned, even before the phone call between Trump and Zelensky, by the activities of the US President and those close to him regarding Ukrainian diplomacy. Hill’s testimony also brought another major player into the Ukraine scandal—former National Security Advisor John Bolton—who may be called to testify in the near future.
On Tuesday, lawmakers heard testimony from Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, despite previous efforts by the State Department to block Kent’s testimony. Kent revealed that in a May 23 meeting, Mick Mulvaney told Kent that US special envoy Kurt Volker, who resigned last month; Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, who resigned last week; and US ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland would be tasked with Ukrainian diplomacy instead of career diplomats like Kent, who is considered a Ukraine policy expert.
The following day, Michael McKinley, former senior advisor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, told lawmakers that his decision to resign was over frustrations that the Trump administration was sidelining career diplomats on Ukraine policy and not supporting them during the impeachment process. Kurt Volker also met with lawmakers for a second time.
On Thursday, Sondland testified under subpoena that he did not agree with President Trump’s decision to delegate American foreign policy on Ukraine to his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Sondland’s testimony is at odds with other US foreign officials who have said Sondland willingly inserted himself into Ukrainian policy.
As we mentioned last week, two of Rudy Giuliani’s business associates— Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman— were indicted and arrested by the Southern District of New York. The two were arrested at Dulles airport just before boarding a plane with one-way tickets. Both men were released after paying $1 million bonds, and are under house arrest. Two more men associated with Parnas and Fruman— Andrey Kukushkin and David Correia— were also arrested soon after. It was reported that SDNY prosecutors have been looking into Giuliani since August over a $500,000 payment from one of Parnas’ companies. Prosecutors are looking into Giuliani’s financials and plan to subpoena his bank records. On the impeachment front, Giuliani’s attorneys have also reportedly stated that he will defy a subpoena related to the impeachment inquiry.
Where are Americans on impeachment? Gallup recently released a poll measuring support for impeachment and removal of President Trump. Additionally, Gallup compared the sentiment of the two parties as to whether they believe President Trump should be impeached and removed from office. As expected, sentiment is split strongly between party lines.
Slim Majority Now Supports Trump’s Impeachment and Removal From Office Compared to When Mueller Report Was Released
|June 3-16, 2019^||October 1-13, 2019||Change|
|Yes, should be||45||52||+7|
|No, should not be||53||46||-7|
Support for Impeachment, by Political Party Identification: June vs. October 2019
|June 2019||October 2019||Change|
|% Yes, should be||% Yes, should be||(pct. pts.)|
This coming week, lawmakers will hear testimony from Laura Cooper, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia. Top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, will testify on October 22nd. Taylor was part of the texts messages between State officials and Giuliani which revealed specific details about the Ukraine scandal. Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought will testify on Friday. There will also be testimony from two other lower level officials from the State Department and the Office of Management and Budget – Kathryn Wheelbarger, the Acting Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs will testify Thursday, and Michael Duffey, the Associate Director for National Security Programs at the Office of Management and Budget will testify on Wednesday.
A date has not been set for the C.I.A. whistleblower to testify. Despite no official date, Democratic lawmakers assured that he will testify. Democrats plan on taking extreme step to ensure the anonymity of the whistleblower. A date has also not been set for the Counselor of the State Department and former classmate of Secretary Pompeo, Ulrich Brechbuhl. Given his close ties to the Secretary, lawmakers are eager to hear his testimony.