Banning political ads on Twitter a 'constructive step': board member Robert Zoellick

As Facebook and Twitter escalate their fight over online content, one member of Twitter's board is backing a controversial decision by CEO Jack Dorsey to ban political ads. Former World Bank President Robert Zoellick, who joined the Twitter (TWTR) board last year, tells Yahoo Finance that banning political ads is the right move.

"I think Twitter and all the different media companies have been trying to make sure that they can play a constructive and responsible role while recognizing people are trying to manipulate their activities for political purposes," Zoellick said in Berlin, where he's attending ceremonies marking the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

"I think this was a constructive step," he said.

Zoellick is a longtime political hand, having served in key positions in the Reagan and both Bush presidential administrations. He led the World Bank during much of President Obama's first term.

Robert Zoellick speaks to a group of journalists in Berlin (Scott Saloway/Yahoo Finance)
Robert Zoellick speaks to a group of journalists in Berlin (Scott Saloway/Yahoo Finance)

Zoellick said he couldn't comment on Facebook (FB), or CEO Mark Zuckerberg's decision not to censor political ads. Both companies insist political ads make up only a small portion of their revenue, with Twitter CFO Ned Segal tweeting that "political ad spend" on Twitter for the 2018 midterms was less than $3 million.

"In a democracy, I don't think it's right for private companies to censor politicians or the news," Zuckerberg said on the Facebook earnings call last week. "And although I've considered whether we should not carry these ads in the past, and I'll continue to do so, on balance so far I've thought we should continue. Ads can be an important part of voice – especially for candidates and advocacy groups the media might not otherwise cover so they can get their message into debates."

In a series of tweets, Jack Dorsey took a different view, writing that "This isn’t about free expression. This is about paying for reach. And paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle."

"It’s worth stepping back in order to address," Dorsey wrote.

Read more:

Twitter banning political ads could look very smart come 2021

Mark Zuckerberg defends Facebook on political ads, free speech

David Simon on Facebook and Twitter: ‘What they fail to police is ruining the world’

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