The Bloomberg campaign “contracted” (paid) influencers to share (mostly wry, humorous) 2020 hopeful Mike Bloomberg memes on Instagram, as reported by The New York Times. Now, Facebook has changed a notable rule for paid political posts on the sites, as reported by Politico.
“After hearing from multiple campaigns, we agree that there’s a place for branded content in political discussion on our platforms,” Facebook told the Engadget in a statement. These sorts of posts from politicians used to be barred from the platform as a rule of thumb, Politico reports. This rule shift only applies to the United States.
Facebook has an interesting relationship with content paid for by politicians. When it comes to fact-checking for posts not paid for by politicians, Facebook says that it “prohibits ads that include claims debunked by third-party fact-checkers or, in certain circumstances, claims debunked by organizations with particular expertise.”
In the fall of 2019, Facebook refused to take down a political ad run by Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, suggesting (with no evidence) that 2020 hopeful and former Vice President Joe Biden threatened to withhold a massive $1 billion in U.S. aid to Ukraine. Facebook’s global elections policy chief Katie Harbath wrote in explanation to the Biden campaign months ago, “Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is. Thus, when a politician speaks or makes an ad, we do not send it to third-party fact checkers.”
To make points about how dangerous and ridiculous this policy is, The Really Online Lefty League, claimed that Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham supports the Green New Deal in an ad (if only!). Facebook pulled it because it was clearly false, but it just proved an important point: Why would that misinformation have been OK if a politician, instead of a PAC, had paid for it? 2020 hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren has also called out Mark Zuckerberg over Facebook’s ad policies after his meeting with Donald Trump.
Now, what does this have to do with Bloomberg? Political ads and sponsored content posted by influencers will, apparently, be treated differently by the platforms. As of Friday, Facebook will permit “branded content” from political candidates, provided the content is explicitly marked as sponsored. This rule will also impact Instagram because Facebook owns it. Where did the recent flurry of Bloomberg memes appear? Instagram. According to Facebook, the memes which have already been posted but were not explicitly labeled as sponsored can stay online, provided they’re labeled correctly.
On Instagram, influencers will be required to use the platform’s “branded content ads” function for posts sponsored by political campaigns. This tool tags on a clear label that states “Paid Partnership with” as a form of disclosure.
The “branded content” will be treated differently from the ads paid for politicians in terms of finances too. Facebook makes some money off of political ads, but it reportedly won’t make money off of sponsored content. Political candidates, notably, also won’t be required to share how much they paid for people to share these sponsored posts, just that they are, indeed, sponsored. These posts also won’t be logged in Facebook’s ad library, unless, as reported by The Verge, the creator pays to promote the post.
The other big difference? Sponsored posts may be fact-checked. If the sponsored post is in the voice of the candidate, like an “I” statement, they won’t be fact-checked, but if they’re in the voice of the sponsored poster, they might be. One important distinction is that if you’re just making or sharing posts about a candidate but are not making money off of it, you don’t have to worry about Facebook’s new rules.
“Mike Bloomberg 2020 has teamed up with social creators to collaborate with the campaign, including the meme world. While a meme strategy may be new to presidential politics, we’re betting it will be an effective component to reach people where they are and compete with President Trump’s powerful digital operation,” Sabrina Singh, a spokesperson for the Bloomberg campaign, told Recode in a statement.