Facebook to Allow Paid Political Messages That Aren’t AdsIndustry News
Facebook decided Friday to allow a type of paid political message that had sidestepped many of the social network’s rules governing political ads.
Its policy change comes days after presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg exploited a loophole to run such humorous messages promoting his campaign on the accounts of popular Instagram personalities followed by millions of younger people.
Bloomberg’s use of the loophole and Facebook’s policy change in response underscore difficulties tech companies and regulators have in keeping up with the changing nature of paid political messages. It used to be clearer what’s an ad and what isn’t — and thus what’s subject to disclosures and other rules. With social media, a campaign can pay celebrities and other influential users to spread a message on their behalf, without ever buying an ad and be subject to its rules.
“This is a new kind of activity that simply didn’t exist when the rules for internet political communications were last updated,” said Commissioner Ellen L. Weintraub of the Federal Election Commission.
The change involves what Facebook calls “branded content” — sponsored items posted by ordinary users who are typically paid by companies or organizations. Advertisers pay the influential users directly to post about their brand.
Facebook makes no money from such posts and does not consider them advertising. As a result, branded content isn’t governed by Facebook’s advertising policies, which require candidates and campaigns to verify their identity with a U.S. ID or mailing address and disclose how much they spent running each ad.
Until Friday, Facebook tried to deter campaigns from using such branded content by barring them from using a tool designed to help advertisers run such posts on Facebook and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. Friday’s rule change will now allow campaigns in the U.S. to use this tool, provided they’ve been authorized by Facebook to run political ads and disclose who paid for the sponsored posts.
The Bloomberg campaign took the unconventional step of paying social media influencers — individuals with huge followings — to post Bloomberg memes using their Instagram accounts. Different versions of the sponsored posts from the Bloomberg campaign ran on more than a dozen influential Instagram accounts, each of which has millions of followers.
That effort skirted many of the rules that tech companies have imposed on political ads to safeguard U.S. elections from malicious foreign and domestic interference and misinformation. Online political ads have been controversial, especially after it was revealed Russia used them in an attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election. In response, Facebook has rolled out a number of rules to prevent a repeat of that, though it has declined to fact-check political ads and refuses to ban even blatantly false messages.