Over the course of the 2016 presidential election, political campaigns took to Twitter like never before, using extensive ad buys and promoted tweets to spread their message. According to a Medium published last night, the Trump campaign attempted to purchase a promoted hashtag, and was shut down by Twitter.
Gary Coby, the Trump Campaign’s director of digital advertising and fundraising, outlined in his post that the campaign signed a $5 million spending commitment in August following the Republican National Convention.
Coby explained that the campaign planned to launch specific emoji attached to the hashtag #CrookedHillary — a hand holding a bag of money, and later to a figure of a person running with a bag of money. In the days before the first debate, Coby learned that the promoted hashtag was not approved.
An official for Twitter wouldn’t comment on the specifics of the conversations that it held, but it did release the following statement:
“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.”
Companies have purchased promotional hashtags and emoji, such as Disney to promote Star Wars or personalities such as Taylor Swift to promote an album. Other emojis pop up around major sporting events, such as the Olympics or the Premier League. Essentially, as the Trump Campaign attempted to create its own emoji topics to attack the Clinton campaign, Twitter was having similar discussions with other political organizations.
However, political advertising falls under additional levels of scrutiny. Such ads must be disclosed to viewers per Federal Election Commission guidelines. You’ve seen these disclosures at the end any ad you see on TV: Paid for by the Republican National Committee, authorized by Donald J. Trump for President Inc., Approved by Donald J. Trump, or Approved by Hillary Clinton, Paid forby Hillary For America. These disclaimers are required for “all ‘public communications,’” which include TV, print, mass emails, and other “general public political advertising.”
These promoted emoji don’t have this type of disclosure, and as a result, the company opted to not allow this sort of advertising to any political candidate, including the Trump campaign. While Twitter did run hashtag emojis for the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, neither were paid for by either political party.
While the Trump campaign is angry about not being permitted to promote these hashtags, it was incredibly effective with its online ad buys, using social media in ways that other campaigns had not. Ultimately, it helped pave the way for Trump’s election earlier this month, something future political campaigns will be watching closely, even if they can’t get a targeted emoji.