Feb 19, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: Facebook weighs in on Bloomberg's social media tactics

Person wearing bloomberg 2020 shirt

Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Facebook says that paid political campaign staffers are allowed to post content supporting the candidate they work for, so long as those employees "make an effort" to disclose their ties to the campaign.

Yes, but: Facebook will not take down content posted by a campaign staffer that endorses a candidate they work for if they do not disclose the relationship, a spokesperson tells Axios. That's because there's no clear guidance from regulators about whether or not this type of paid relationship violates campaign finance rules.

Why it matters: Online platforms and election officials have been caught flat-footed by 2020 candidate Michael Bloomberg's use of new-age social media advertising tactics.

  • Last week, Facebook clarified its branded content rules for political advertisers, saying that campaigns and groups can indeed use paid branded content across its platforms. The clarification was prompted by a move from Michael Bloomberg's campaign to pay top Instagram influencers to post memes on its behalf.

Background: Wednesday's clarification by Facebook comes in light of news broken by the Wall Street Journal that the Bloomberg campaign was paying hundreds of Californians to regularly post endorsements about the billionaire on their personal social media accounts.

  • According to the report, the campaign has hired at least 500 "deputy digital organizers” to promote the candidate daily for upwards of $2,500 a month.

Details: Facebook says that moving forward, it will strongly recommend to campaigns that staffers make it clear that they have a paid relationship if they post on the campaign's behalf. But it won't necessarily remove that content if it doesn't feature that guidance.

  • According to one source, that clarification could come in the form of disclosing a user's ties to a campaign on their Facebook page through their "job status" or bio on Instagram.
  • "We think it's important that political campaigns have the guidance and tools to be transparent. That's why we recommend campaign employees make the relationship clear on their accounts," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. "We welcome clearer guidance from regulators in this area."

The big picture: Campaigns are currently required to report salary expenditures to the Federal Election Commission. But the FEC, which is now essentially defunct due to a lack of appointed commissioners, hasn't updated its expenditure guidelines recently.

  • On the commercial side, the Federal Trade Commission offered updated guidance last fall to its native advertising guidelines, but those guidelines don't address political advertising.
  • Facebook says it's exploring additional transparency tools to make it easier to see the branded content campaigns being ran by political advertisers — but without guidance from regulators, it's hard to know the best solution.

The bottom line: Without clear indications from regulators about how candidates are expected to disclose these types of paid relationships, Facebook doesn't feel as though it has the authority to remove that type of content.

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