'Having rules is a good thing': Jacinda Ardern backs Twitter's political advertising ban

Jacinda Ardern is supportive of Twitter's ban on paid political advertising, saying voters need to be able to rely on what they are seeing during political campaigns.

"I think we're all adapting to these online forms of media or platforms," the Prime Minister said on Thursday, following the announcement by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

"They're platforms that we haven't had before, so actually their entry into the market is relatively new and we'll adapt as the rules change.

Twitter was launched in 2006, and Ardern joined in March 2009.

"The most important thing is that people are able to access clear, definitive information... and that people can actually rely on what they're seeing during political campaigns."

The Prime Minister said having rules in place is a good thing.

Dorsey made the announcement in a Twitter thread, telling his 4.3 million followers that while he thinks internet advertising is "incredibly powerful", the power brings "significant risks to politics, where it can be used to influence votes".

"Internet political ads present entirely new challenges to civic discourse: machine learning-based optimisation of messaging and micro-targeting, unchecked misleading information, and deep fakes," Dorsey said.

"This isn't about freedom of 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."

Dorsey said Twitter will keep some ads, such as support for voter registration. 

The Prime Minister met with Dorsey in Wellington last month to discuss eliminating extremist content online.

Jack Dorsey and Jacinda Ardern in Wellington.
Jack Dorsey and Jacinda Ardern in Wellington. Photo credit: Twitter

Social media companies, including Twitter rival Facebook, face growing pressure to stop selling ads that spread inaccurate information.

Ardern said whether social media companies should follow Twitter's lead and ban political advertising is "ultimately a decision for them".

"I know some of those platforms are looking at different rules to make sure that people know where the information has come from, and in the age of misinformation, I think those are good moves."

Ardern didn't expand on what that progress was, but Facebook has created a voluntary tool that political parties can sign up to that shows their spending on political ads.

But Ardern's Labour Party is refusing to sign up to it unless the National Party does, according to Stuff. That leaves the Green Party as the only party that has voluntarily signed up to it. 

Ardern has been promoting social media transparency and online safety as part of the Christchurch Call, a crisis-response framework for tech companies and governments following the March 15 shootings.

Earlier this month Ardern highlighted the importance of it in the wake of a shooting in Germany that was streamed online. 

She said at the time she was pleased the group's "incident protocol" had kicked in, when companies communicated with one another to stop the spread of the footage.

Facebook has pledged to try and stop the spread of misinformation on its platform after Russian propaganda before the 2016 US presidential election was seen to have influenced the outcome, which was won by Donald Trump.

But Facebook made a decision not to fact-check ads run by politicians, drawing backlash from Democratic candidates running in the 2020 presidential election including former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Last week Zuckerberg appeared in front of the US Congress, where Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez grilled him about it.  

She asked Zuckerberg if he saw "a potential problem here with a complete lack of fact-checking on political advertisements."

Zuckerberg replied, "In most cases, in a democracy, I believe that people should be able to see for themselves what politicians that they may or may not vote for are saying and judge their character for themselves."