Could popular social media platform Twitter be playing favorites or showing a bias for or against certain organizations and their stance on pressing socio-political issues? A major anti-abortion group is, in fact, accusing Twitter of blocking its ads and going against its previous claims of hosting “unfiltered debate.”
Live Action, a group known for its undercover investigations of abortion clinics is accusing the media giant of even demanding the removal of “sensitive content” from its own website. It is also alleging that Twitter wrongly applied its policies to censor advertisements that contain ultrasound images of fetuses, promote or link to some of the group’s secret recordings, and its content of opposing federal funding of Planned Parenthood.
Live Action said the blocked content is very crucial as it makes up the very core of its message. The anti-abortion group wrote a letter of protest to Twitter on September 11 and also requested the leading social media platform to reinstate the organization’s ability to promote its tweets to a broader audience beyond its own tens of thousands of Twitter followers.
The group is accusing Twitter-which commands a strong 300 million active users a month- of going overboard. Lila Rose, Live Action’s president and founder of the group said: “This wasn’t about one issue with one aspect with one ad. This was about the entirety of our message, from ultrasound images of life in the womb to criticism of abortion facilities.”
Rose, 29, is very passionate about the organization she started when she was just 15 and the cause they’re standing for. She also underscores Twitter’s supposed responsibility and how it is overstepping its bounds. She said: “The heart of Twitter’s self-named purpose is to ‘give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers’. They are completely violating that.”
A spokeswoman for Twitter denied the accusation hurled against the media giant and said the company does not censor advertisers based on their political viewpoints. She claimed that Twitter had advertising relationships with several socially and politically conservative groups, including another known anti-abortion group, the Susan B. Anthony List.
The Twitter spokeswoman said while they do not discriminate against particular groups, they strictly adhere to clear guidelines in approving or disapproving ads including prohibiting advertisers from “misleading people with sensationalized language and deceptive claims. It also blocks content that could “offend or shock people.” She also said such rules apply equally to all advertisers.
Twitter’s political and advocacy sales team told Live Action in its May 18 email that the group’s ads violated Twitter’s “sensitive advertising content” policy , which supposedly prohibits “inflammatory or provocative content which is likely to evoke a strong negative reaction”. Also included are content that are shocking, disturbing or offensive.
Twitter gave the organization two conditions to be eligible again for placing future advertisements: for it to remove “sensitive content” from its website and Twitter feed, or to create a Twitter handle linking to a new website without the offending content.
However, among the “sensitive content” Twitter objected to are all crucial to the key messages of the organization. One of the lawyers for Live Action Pete Slevin laid down why Twitter’s demands were unusual. He said: “It’s not just that Twitter is saying, as a practical matter, that we’re going to ‘regulate’ your Tweets, they’re also seeming to ‘regulate’ what Live Action is posting on its own website.”
Live Action has spent nearly $50,000 on promoted tweets since it started advertising on Twitter in 2013, with some of its now blocked ads able to run in the past. The group also said they successfully ran the blocked content by Twitter on Facebook. They also advertise on Youtube and Instagram.
Live Action places great importance on advertising on social media for their belief that it commands the largest audience. The group feels that Twitter’s moves against them will hurt their potential to reach out to more people with their message. They do not advertise on traditional media like print and television.
The group’s accusations against Twitter come at a time when other social media platforms such as Facebook and Google, among others, also wrestled with allegations of overstepping their role as hosts or moderators of public square, and dangerously straying into the realm of disturbing censorship targeting among others, white supremacists as well as minorities documenting racism they experience.