Facebook changes policy on political ads after Mike Bloomberg hires Instagram influencers for memes
Facebook decided on Friday to allow some sort of paid political messaging that had bypassed many of the social network’s rules for political advertising, in an inversion that highlights the difficulty tech companies and regulators have in keeping up with the changing nature of paid political messages .
His policy change comes days latertook advantage of a loophole to post humorous messages for his campaign on the accounts of popular Instagram personalities, followed by millions of younger people. Before the social media explosion, it was clearer what constituted an ad – and therefore subject to disclosures and other rules. With social media, a campaign can pay celebrities and other influential users to get a message across on their behalf without ever buying an ad and being subject to its rules.
“This is a new kind of activity that just didn’t exist when the rules for political communication on the Internet were last updated,” said Commissioner Ellen L. Weintraub of the Federal Electoral Commission.
The change affects what Facebook calls “branded content” – sponsored articles posted by regular users who are usually paid for by businesses or organizations. Advertisers pay the influential users directly to post about their brand.
Facebook doesn’t make any money with posts like this and doesn’t see them as advertising. For this reason, Branded Content is not subject to thethat require candidates and campaigns to verify their identity with a U.S. ID or mailing address and how much they spent on each ad.
Until Friday, Facebook attempted to prevent campaigns from using such branded content by banning them from using a tool designed to help advertisers post those posts on Facebook and Instagram owned by Facebook. Friday’s rule change now allows campaigns in the US to use this tool, provided they have been authorized by Facebook to run political ads and disclose who paid for the sponsored posts.
“After hearing about several campaigns, we agree that branded content has a place in the political discussion on our platforms,” Facebook said in an exclusive statement to The Associated Press. “We’re allowing US-based political candidates to work with YouTubers to post this content.”
Politicians still don’t have to disclose how much they paid influencers to publish the posts.
The Bloomberg campaign took the unconventional step of paying social media influencers – people with a large following – to post Bloomberg memes on their Instagram accounts. Various versions of the Bloomberg campaign sponsored posts have been featured on more than a dozen influential Instagram accounts, each with millions of followers.
These efforts bypassed many of the rules technology companies have imposed on political ads to protect the US election from malicious foreign and domestic interference and misinformation. Online political advertising was controversial, especially after it was revealed that Russia was using it to influence the 2016 presidential election. In response, Facebook put in place a number of rules to prevent it from happening again.
The Bloomberg campaign memes featured the 78-year-old contestant chatting in a winking manner with popular social media influencers by the names of “Tank Sinatra” and asking them to help him raise his profile with younger people.
“Can you post a meme that will let everyone know that I’m the cool candidate?” Bloomberg wrote on one of the exchanges posted by an account called F (asterisk) (asterisk) (asterisk) Jerry, which has nearly 15 million followers on Instagram. The candidate then sent a photo of him in baggy chino shorts, an orange polo shirt, and a zip-up vest.
F (asterisk) (asterisk) (asterisk) Jerry’s account then replied, “Ooof, this is going to cost about a billion dollars.” Bloomberg responded by asking where the money should be sent.
With the sponsored posts, Bloomberg’s campaign said it reached those who would normally not be interested in the day-to-day running of politics.
“You want to address people on every platform and they should feel that they are not just getting a general statement from the can,” said campaign spokeswoman Sabrina Singh about the campaign’s strategy.
The Bloomberg posts were little more than self-deprecating humor used to sell a candidate’s appeal, using a tactic previously used primarily for selling skin care products or subscriptions to clothing. But the lack of oversight and clear rules for influencer marketing, not to mention its effectiveness in reaching younger audiences, makes it ripe for abuse.
It’s not yet clear if Facebook’s sudden policy change will close all the loopholes, although the company says the problem is new territory and its approach may change over time. The same goes for regulation, which is even further behind than tech companies.
The Bloomberg campaign declined to sayfor the sponsored posts, or if more of them were in the works. The posts did not appear in Facebook’s advertising transparency library, which catalogs the political ads that buy campaigns directly from Facebook or Instagram, and tells users how much was spent on them.
Bloomberg’s campaign told the AP on Thursday that Instagram had not requested the campaign to disclose this information about the sponsored posts it posted earlier this week. With Friday’s change, the campaign would have to add the contributions to the library but still not disclose any spending amounts.