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More than Bloomberg: Facebook OKs influencers working with political campaigns

If this week had a theme, that theme would be sponsored content. 

On Wednesday, presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg teamed up with over two dozen highly influential Instagram accounts, with more than 60 million followers in total, to drop sponsored political memes. It sent shockwaves throughout social media until the New York Times reported it was all part of a project called Meme2020. The move also posed the question of what the future of elections may look like

Then, the Federal Trade Commission, which makes the rules for how influencers and brands work together to create paid content, launched a review of its endorsement policies, since many creators tend to skirt them

The FTC just voted to launch a review of our endorsement policies, which cover influencer marketing, fake reviews, and more.

We may need new rules for tech platforms and for companies that pay influencers to promote products. The review and your input will help us decide.

— Rohit Chopra (@chopraftc) February 12, 2020

On Friday, the Verge reported that Facebook will continue to allow influencers to work with campaigns without the content being deemed a political ad, as long posts are clearly marked as sponsored. Before the Bloomberg stint, Facebook didn’t have any such guidelines in place. 

NEW: Facebook will allow influencers to partner with political campaigns for sponsored posts.

There weren't any rules on this, because it wasn't really a thing until Michael Bloomberg started posting cringe.

More here:

— Makena Kelly (@kellymakena) February 14, 2020

“After hearing from multiple campaigns, we agree that there’s a place for branded content in political discussion on our platforms,” a Facebook spokesperson told Digital Trends in a statement. “We’re allowing U.S.-based political candidates to work with creators to run this content, provided the political candidates are authorized and the creators disclose any paid partnerships through our branded content tools.”

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Facebook is currently working with the accounts that posted paid content for Bloomberg to properly categorize the memes using the branded content tag. (Branded content tags on Instagram show up at the top of the post, under the account’s name.)

In a statement to Digital Trends regarding whether political sponsored content will be eligible for third-party fact-checking, Facebook said content paid for by a political figure, reflecting their speech, is not be required. But if it is “in the voice of the creator it will be eligible.” That jives with Facebook’s policy of allowing false or misleading political ads.

Got an update from Facebook:

They will tell third-party fact-checkers that if the speech in the sponcon is from the politician paying for the content, it won't be fact-checked. But if the speech is in the voice of the influencer who made it, it will be.

— Ryan Broderick (@broderick) February 14, 2020

Facebook does not make any money off branded content unless it is “boosted” — then the post is “subject to our advertising policies and included in our public, searchable Ad Library for seven years.”

Unlike Twitter, Facebook allows political ads on its platforms, despite harsh pushback from the public following the Cambridge Analytica scandal

President Donald Trump is one of Facebook’s biggest buyers, spending more than $21 million on the site since May 2018. Bloomberg is also utilizing his billions in hopes to outspend Trump, dropping more than $1 million a day in the last few weeks, according to an NBC analysis. 

Based on Facebook’s statement, it’s unknown whether we will see another politically sponsored meme drop at the scale we witnessed Wednesday. 

Creators and campaigns going forward must always use the branded content tag and make it absolutely make it clear to users that they are seeing a post that was paid for. 

Right now the guidelines only apply to influencers within the U.S. Facebook said it will continue the “evolve” the approach going forward to other elections outside the country. 

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Meira Gebel
Meira Gebel is a freelance reporter based in Portland. She writes about tech, social media, and internet culture for Digital…
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