Twitter Blocked Trump Ad Over Emoji, Campaign Exec Claims

It’s a sign of the times when a major media company is accused of engaging in politically motivated censorship for rejecting paid advertising from a presidential campaign – and that ad is an emoji.

That’s what happened when the Trump campaign attempted to run paid ads on Twitter around the first two presidential debates, using a custom emoji and hashtag combination to highlight the alleged corruption of Trump’s Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

According to a post on Medium by the Trump campaign’s director of digital advertising, Gary Coby, the Trump team wanted to complement the candidate’s own voluminous social media output with special emoji symbols showing, among other things, a hand grasping a bag of money labeled “$,” and a furtive figure making off with a bag of money.

The custom emoji tweets would be deployed along with the hashtag #CrookedHillary during and after Trump’s rhetorical attacks on Clinton’s alleged corruption to reinforce those messages.

However, Twitter repeatedly backed out of the emojis, which were part of a larger $5 million upfront advertising deal signed by the microblogging platform with the Trump campaign in August. Twitter execs pulled the plug on the tweets a few days before the first presidential debate because of the supposed threat of legal action by the Clinton campaign.

Twitter repeated the same basic pattern a month later, initially approving an emoji and then withdrawing approval just days before the second presidential debate, this time citing concerns that Twitter users wouldn’t recognize that the message was in fact a paid political ad, and perhaps assume it was a message from the social network itself.

The network’s concern stemmed from the fact that the hashtag-emoji combinations don’t include explicit disclosures stating they are paid ads – but it’s hard to see why Twitter didn’t simply suggest including the word “#ad” in the tweets to clear up any possible confusion on that score.

Twitter’s own statement on the subject read in part: “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.”

However that’s not the justification Twitter offered when it nixed the first emoji, according to Coby, who says the social network claimed “it couldn’t accuse someone of committing a crime they did not commit or were not under investigation for.” This explanation seems far-fetched at best, as insinuations of corruption and self-dealing are a favorite theme of political contests (even if, or especially when, they don’t rise to the level of a criminal accusation).

After the second pullback, again in apparent violation of their upfront ad contract, the Trump campaign pulled most of the rest of its paid advertising from Twitter, which many pundits credit with playing a decisive role in Trump’s victory anyway – just not in the role of an ad channel.
1 comment about "Twitter Blocked Trump Ad Over Emoji, Campaign Exec Claims".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, November 21, 2016 at 12:42 p.m.

    It's no secret that Dorsey (and Zuckerberg) are in the bag for the DNC, but I think emojis communicate a lot less than real words. After you've got permission to use the #CrookedHillary hashtag, the drawings are overkill. Free speech is such an inconvenienceĀ to the ruling class, whether it's the RNC or the DNC.

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