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EDITORIAL: Twitter, Spotify choose to be losers in 2020 election ad race while Facebook, Google cash in

2020 ad spending
Online campaign spending for the 2020 presidential election, as of mid-November 2019 (Center for Responsive Politics courtesy image)

Presidential candidates running for the role of commander-in-chief have spent more than $105 million on digital ads to date. Facebook and Google have received a lion’s share of the ad revenue.

Twitter chose to opt-out for the 2020 presidential election, and just recently, Spotify decided to opt-out as well. This is despite political organizations like the campaign of Bernie Sanders and the Republican National Committee who previously utilized the platform’s paid ad network.

With billionaires in the presidential race, such as Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg, flaunting their cash around, the airwaves have been flooded with presidential election ads and they have even invaded cyberspace as well. By the middle of last month, presidential candidates from both the Democratic and Republican parties have spent more than $100 million on online advertising alone, according to a report from the Center for Responsive Politics. Republican incumbent Donald J. Trump and Democratic candidate Tom Steyer spent the most money.

While Facebook and Google are going to keep rolling in cash from political ads, Facebook has the most to gain despite Google’s larger cut of the digital ad marketplace. The personalized ad targeting mechanisms Facebook has in place has created some favoritism among political candidates on both sides of the aisle. Even more so, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has taken a “no apologies” stance in favor of political advertising, with no regard to whether they are factual or not. Zuckerberg feels limitations on political ads would be considered censorship of free speech.

While Google has more stringently regulated political ads, blocked them in select markets including Canada and even cracked down on questionable spots on YouTube, they have avoided shutting down paid political activities, especially that of paid advertising. They are, however, not perfect as they have taken down hundreds of political campaign ads over the summer, such as the ones below:

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Google, YouTube removed more than 300 Trump campaign ads

Spotify and Twitter, not to mention their hyperpartisan executives, claim that going in the opposite direction by banning political ads was attributed to earning less from those ads, making it easier to take the hit for the ban.

The case might be true for Spotify — barely 10% of overall revenues come from advertising while subscription fees pay the majority of the platform’s bills — and political advertising wasn’t allowed in most markets in the first place. This came from the music streaming platform’s latest annual report.

However, Twitter has paid the price for its more stringent policies, with the markets punishing the social media platform for holding ethics at a higher priority than stances that allow for the maximization of profits.

Snapchat has held the middle ground by taking a moderate approach, choosing not to tune out politics altogether. Unlike Facebook, they are working to make sure their election ads are factual. CEO Evan Spiegel has even noted their crucial role, given so many new voters are on the platform:

I think what we try to do is create a place for political ads on our platform, especially because we reach so many young people and first-time voters we want them to be able to engage with the political conversation, but we don’t allow things like misinformation to appear in that advertising.

Currently, only the Trump campaign and the Democratic campaign of Pete Buttigieg have utilized Snapchat ads to any significant degree. With Twitter and Spotify out of the game for 2020, some more campaign cash could be coming their way soon.

Jake Leonard, a broadcast media and journalism veteran, is the editor-in-chief of Heartland Newsfeed. Leonard is also GM and program director of Heartland Newsfeed Radio Network and a contributing writer for My Sports Vote, Ambush Sports and Midwest Sports Network. He resides at home in Nokomis, Ill. with his dogs Sparky and Buster.

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