November 6, 2019 / 7:47 PM / 12 days ago

Top Republican McConnell says Twitter ban on political ads undermines free speech

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday Twitter’s basis for its recent decision to ban political advertisements boiled down to the same “misunderstandings” that he said have been used to undermine free speech in the past.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) talks to reporters after the weekly Senate policy lunches at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., October 29, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo

Speaking on the floor of the Senate, McConnell said Twitter’s logic that the reach of political messages should be earned and not bought through advertising, “quickly gives way to an arbitrary process of picking winners and losers in the competition of ideas.”

Last month, Twitter announced the ad ban here that would be effective from November, winning some praise from Democrats and scorn from U.S. President Donald Trump's re-election campaign.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Social media companies, including Twitter rival Facebook Inc (FB.O) face growing pressure to stop carrying ads that spread false information that could influence elections.

Facebook has been under fire for its decision to not fact-check ads from politicians containing false or misleading claims.

In recent weeks, Democratic presidential candidates such as former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren have slammed the social media giant over the policy.

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has defended the stance, saying Facebook did not want to stifle political speech.

McConnell pointed to the difficulty of determining who has “earned” an audience, noting that well-known figures or corporations have often benefited from multimillion-dollar publicity campaigns.

McConnell also argued that unless Twitter also banned opinion journalists and media outlets from advertising their work then the ban on political ads could create a double standard.

Twitter has said the ban includes not only candidate ads but also “issue ads.”

Some candidates and digital strategists have raised concerns that the ban will hurt less well-known candidates.

Brad Parscale, who is running Trump’s re-election campaign, described Twitter’s move as an “attempt to silence conservatives” and “a very dumb decision” for the company’s shareholders.

But a Trump campaign official told reporters last week that the ban would not “significantly impact us.”

Reporting by Richard Cowan in Washington and Elizabeth Culliford in San Francisco; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Bill Berkrot

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