Twitter and FB shouldn't ban political ads. They should give them away to registered candidates
Twitter's decision to no longer take political advertising is causing a stir, and people are calling on Facebook to do the same. Political advertising isn't just an issue now that we've learned that Russians are doing it to screw with elections. It's the sink for almost all the money spent by campaigns, and thus all the money they raise from donors. The reason that people in office spend more than half their time fundraising is they feel they have no choice.
Today, most of that money goes to old school media, like TV. We're on the cusp of the switch, where it moves over to online media. For many years, I have written on the opportunities that gives us to change the role of money in politics. I tried to get the leaders of sites like Google and others to early on decide to give away political advertising instead of selling it. It's much easier to give up billions of revenue before you get them, after all.
This is a tricky issue. Political speech is the most protected of speech, considered perhaps the core reason we have free speech at all. We want to be wary of how even private parties regulate it -- we have forbidden the government from doing so.
My New Democracy series included this article on fixing money in politics but I never fully released the biggest part of my plan, since I was still trying to get people to adopt it. An early proposal on political advertising from 2006 was the first version. I will clean up the essay shortly but the core idea was this -- a private version of public campaign financing, done by all the major online sites, such as Google/Youtube, Microsoft, Yahoo, Twitter, Facebook etc. They would give away a massive amount of campaign advertising for free according to a formula similar to the formulae used in some places for Party subsidies or public campaign finance. For example, you must be a registered candidate and get a share equal to the number of donors you can get or signatures you can gather.
This was combined with official political spam managed by the elections office, giving registered candidates a way to e-mail voters, with the number of emails controlled by the voters.
All of this together would mean candidates would feel they could reach the voters (particularly for "get out the vote") at little to no cost, and as such they no longer needed to raise lots of money to get elected -- and as such they no longer would need to become beholden to big donors.
That's the theory at least. There's a lot to make out, but in general, I believe there is a "pony in here somewhere." If political advertising is the big force corrupting our elections, and we've undergone a revolution in advertising and media, it should point to a way we can make things better, not worse.
I did not consider the question of foreign attack at the time. Private political advertising is still possible in this world, and most others, but it becomes less effective if private advertisers must pay real money while candidates can overwhelm them with donated ads. But not entirely ineffective, and so more needs to be done.