EDF Urges Twitter to Create Level Playing Field on Issues

Letter from Eric Pooley, Senior VP, Strategy and Communications, Environmental Defense Fund

November 15, 2019
Keith Gaby, kgaby@edf.org, (202) 572-3336


Dear Mr. Dorsey,

As you formulate your final policy on political and issue advertising, we hope you will aim to create a fair forum for critical public issues. According to some press reports, the policy you are considering would effectively allow oil and gas companies to continue to do paid promotion of their messages on climate change-related topics, while banning environmental groups like EDF and EDF Action from doing so. We believe this would be a serious mistake, as it would create a dramatically unfair playing field.

We strongly recommend that, if you intend to prohibit political ads, you limit your ban to candidates and parties – and ads mentioning them – rather than to issue advocates. That seems like a workable bright line that would address the most notorious abuses, but allow all advocates to get our messages out to a broad audience. It would also relieve Twitter of the impossible task of judging which cleverly worded corporate ads are actually intended to influence policy.

Banning both sides from issue ads does not seem like a fair or workable solution. Even if companies like ExxonMobil couldn’t use phrases like “climate change” in their paid tweets, their ads would leave the strong impression of favoritism if those from the environmental community are banned.

As an example of why a ban on issues ads (but not commercial product ads) would be inherently unfair and unworkable, consider that all of EDF’s ads are considered “issue” ads — which we assume means they would be banned under the reported policy.

In contrast, to choose one example, none of ExxonMobil’s ads are labeled “issue” ads — even those that speak directly about climate change. If it followed this logic, the policy reportedly being considered by Twitter would tilt the playing field so that companies are the only ones who can speak to the public on an issue using paid promotions. It would make the existing situation much, much worse.

Thank you for your efforts to improve Twitter’s social impact. We are hopeful that if you establish a clear, workable policy this will improve the dialogue on a range of important issues.

Eric Pooley

Senior Vice President
Strategy and Communications
Environmental Defense Fund

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Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading international nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. Connect with us on EDF Voices, Twitter and Facebook.