Twitter relaxes longstanding ban on political ads as Elon Musk tries to boost revenue

Twitter is relaxing some of its policies that ban political advertisements on the platform as company chief Elon Musk attempts to boost revenue and cut costs.

The social media company had initially banned all forms of political advertising in 2019 when former chief and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey said the reach of such messages should be “earned” and not “bought”.

Mr Dorsey had taken a stern approach on political advertising on Twitter, saying such ads and their microtargeting to audiences in specific locations was creating “significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle”.

But with the latest move, Twitter said elected officials and advocacy groups can resume promotions on the platform that are focused on specific causes.

“Today, we’re relaxing our ads policy for cause-based ads in the US. We also plan to expand the political advertising we permit in the coming weeks,” Twitter safety announced on its offical account.

“Moving forward, we will align our advertising policy with that of TV and other media outlets,” it tweeted.

With the new changes to advertising rules, the social media company said it will permit cause-based ads – a move that may allow marketers to promote content on political issues such as social equity and the climate crisis.

The company added that the new rules would later expand other forms of political advertising.

Twitter’s rules on ads have some restrictions, including that they are limited to “geo, keyword, and interest targeting” for example, and that they shouldn’t “have the primary goal of driving political, judicial, legislative, or regulatory outcomes”.

But a new point in its rules added on Tuesday said “advertisers whose cause-based ads target only within the US are exempt from the above-listed restrictions”.

While Twitter justifies these changes, saying such “cause-based advertising can facilitate public conversation around important topics”, it is unclear if these rules will be relaxed outside the US in the future.

It is also not clear what could exactly change with respect to content on the platform outside of what the company mentions in its recent tweets.

The latest move also comes following reports in November which suggested that over a third of Twitter’s biggest advertisers stopped marketing on the site.

Mr Musk, who has called himself a “free-speech absolutist”, said one of his goals following his takeover was to loosen the rules on the kinds of content that would be allowed on the platform.

Some companies said they refrained from advertising on Twitter citing concerns about “brand safety” after the Tesla titan took over, likely due to weakened content moderation on the platform after mass layoffs.

A combination of several of these factors have led to Twitter’s revenue falling significantly since Mr Musk’s takeover, with the multibillionaire likening the company to a “plane that is headed towards the ground at high speed with the engines on fire and the controls don’t work”.

Fidelity, one of a consortium of firms that helped Mr Musk acquire Twitter by providing $316m for the takeover, slashed its carrying value of the company by 56 per cent in November, Axios reported last week.

Twitter also reportedly discussed in December the consequences of not paying severance fees to its staff fired during the mass layoff.

Last month, reports suggested the company’s chief had instructed staff to not pay vendors, including rent for its offices in anticipation of lawsuits against the social media giant.

A lawsuit filed last week noted that Twitter had more than $136,000 (£113,000) in overdue rent on its offices in San Francisco.

In other cost-cutting measures, Mr Musk has also auctioned off some of Twitter’s office items from its San Francisco headquarters, including a statue of the company’s iconic blue bird, some high-end office furniture, espresso machines and an electric bike-charging station.