Twitter ban on political ads unlikely to disturb Malta

In the Maltese political scene, it’s Facebook that is used as an effective tool for political campaigning. In just three months leading up to the last MEP elections in May, Maltese politicians spent over €80,000 on Facebook ads

One social media giant has taken an equally gigantic step to ban political adverts on its medium: Twitter, the ‘micro-blogging’ site.

Pity about its damp effect on Maltese users, who prefer Facebook and remain inundated at various intervals with adverts from Maltese parties and politicians and the government.

The Party of European Socialists in the European Parliament responded to Twitter’s move to ban political ads positively, saying such a ban would protect the integrity of public discussion.

“The PES believes all political parties must be able to pitch their ideas to the public and engage in meaningful conversation without distortion from big money,” the party said in a statement, adding that political parties should be judged by the quality of their ideas, not the size of their budgets.

Their reaction notwithstanding, the PES was one of the big spenders on Twitter advertisements. In the last week alone, PES spent €1,600 on Twitter ad campaigns according to the platform’s ad transparency centre.

On the other hand, the Maltese constituency very rarely interacts with Twitter. The Maltese electorate’s infrequent access to political tweets comes in the form of online stories on local news websites, when journalists embed political tweets on the online articles. Politicians might prefer the concision of a tweet to communicate tidbits of their statements.

In the Maltese political scene, however, it’s Facebook that is used as an effective tool for political campaigning. In just three months leading up to the last MEP elections in May, Maltese politicians spent over €80,000 on Facebook ads.

The data emerged from Facebook transparency information, which revealed that Maltese politicians did not spend any money whatsoever on political advertisements.

Between March and November 2019, the MaltaGov Facebook page spent €17,550 on advertisements. Each ad cost approximately €1,300 and was mainly targeted at Malta’s central and south eastern regions and at males between the ages of 25 and 34.

With certain adverts, the northern region and Gozo did not feature as target demographics.

Maltese political parties can sleep easy knowing that Facebook has no intention of changing its policy on political advertisements and would not likely follow Twitter’s footsteps.

The social media website’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg said a few weeks ago that the social network will not ban or fact-check ads. Facebook and Zuckerberg have argued that political ads allow lesser-known candidates to gain attention and build followings that bigger candidates already have.

The thin line between freedom of expression and distortion via big money is not of interest to Facebook yet, which believes that the social network can add to the multiplicity of previously unheard voices.

Facebook data shows that Nationalist Party candidates and the party spent a total of €49,824 on Facebook ads for their MEP electoral campaign since 1 March, while the Labour Party and its representatives spent a total of €24,446. The biggest spender before the last MEP elections was David Casa, spending €6,853 in just three months, followed by Opposition Leader Adrian Delia with €6,348, and Labour MEP Alfred Sant with €6,326.

This contrasted with the front-runners for the major parties, Labour MEP Miriam Dalli and Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola. Metsola spent €1,901 since March, less than half of that (€633) in the last week of the electoral campaign. Dalli spent far less on Facebook ads, buying just €409 worth of advertising. Of these, €132 were spent in the last week of the campaign.

Metsola spent just 27.7% of Casa’s full amount. Dalli spent 6.5% of her PL colleague Alfred Sant’s full amount.