Twitter didn’t want people to think it was running anti-Hillary ads.
Donald Trump’s campaign team believes Twitter is a major reason Trump will be the next U.S. president. It also believes Twitter unfairly “restricted” the campaign’s advertising efforts.
Twitter says that’s not true.
In a Medium post on Friday titled “A Call With Jack,” Trump’s director of digital advertising, Gary Coby, wrote in detail about how Twitter backed out of an advertising deal for custom hashtag emojis around the first and second presidential debates. (Custom hashtag emojis are an ad type that tacks a specific emoji on the end of a hashtag — like this.)
Coby says that Twitter — after first approving the hashtag #CrookedHillary that included an emoji of a stick figure running off with a bag of cash — called the Trump team “a couple days before the first presidential debate” to tell them the ad campaign had been denied, claiming to “fear litigation” from Clinton’s people.
A second campaign, featuring the above emoji, was also approved, then denied, a few days before the second debate. This time, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and COO Adam Bain called the Trump campaign directly to apologize and explain the decision.
That decision, according to both the blog post and a Twitter spokesperson, was due to concerns the ad wouldn’t be recognized on Twitter as an ad.
Hashtag emoji campaigns don’t include any indication that they are paid advertisements, and Twitter often adds its own emojis to the end of hashtags for major events (as it did for both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions).
Basically, Twitter didn’t want users to think the #CrookedHillary emoji was sponsored in any way by the company. So it pulled the ad campaign and said it wouldn’t run sponsored hashtag emojis for any political campaign moving forward.
Here’s a formal explanation from a Twitter spokesperson.
“We have had specific discussions with several political organizations, including the Trump campaign, regarding branded emojis as part of broad advertising campaigns on Twitter. We believe that political advertising merits a level of disclosure and transparency that branded political emojis do not meet, and we ultimately decided not to permit this particular format for any political advertising.”
The spokesperson added that Twitter had no interest in denying Trump’s ad dollars, claiming Trump spent millions on the platform throughout his campaign. This issue was about making sure people knew what was an ad and what wasn’t, not about taking political sides, the spokesperson added.
So why is this story still relevant well over a month after it happened? Because Trump and his team are still talking about it, for starters. But also because people are still trying to wrap their heads around the impact that social platforms like Facebook and Twitter had on last week’s presidential election. Since the election, both Facebook and Twitter have dealt with questions of neutrality — are these platforms truly and unequivocally unbiased?
Deciding which ads to run, or not run, certainly falls into that conversation. And it’s ironic that Twitter, in its effort to eliminate the appearance of bias by killing a campaign that didn’t clearly identify it was an ad, is now being accused of taking a political stand.