Feb 14, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Facebook says political candidates can use paid memes

Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images

Facebook said Friday that political candidates, campaigns and groups can use paid branded content across its platforms, a clarification prompted by a move from Michael Bloomberg's campaign to pay top Instagram influencers to post memes on its behalf.

The big picture: Its policy didn't explicitly state that it was OK for candidates to use branded content posts, but after hearing from various campaigns about the issue, Facebook moved to clarify its stance.

  • Branded content is a tricky area to define and regulate because it is more obscure about being an advertisement by design. The Federal Trade Commission released native content guidelines years ago, but their enforcement was difficult.
  • Recently, the FTC has cracked down more on influencers that haven't disclosed paid promotions, but there have been few examples of promotions for political purposes that were evaluated by the FTC or the Federal Election Commission, which also sets rules and boundaries for campaign expenditures.

Be smart: Branded content is different than advertising in that Facebook does not receive any money from branded content — and there are no ways to target branded content posts.

  • However, that ambiguity makes it harder for users sometime to understand what's a paid promotion and what's not.

The state of play: Facebook has agreed that branded content should be allowed to be used by candidates, as long as the candidates are authorized and the creators disclose paid partnerships through branded content tools, according to a spokesperson.

  • Facebook previously prohibited political candidates and campaigns from running branded content by default because it wanted to avoid any risk that such actions could be viewed as accounts giving monetary contributions to campaigns.
  • It's tweaking its approach now — only in the U.S. — because it believes that this is no longer a concern, given that it doesn’t provide payments as a feature of its branded content tools. 

Yes, but: If a campaign were to buy ads to boost its branded content, then it would be subject to Facebook's advertising policies. That paid promotion would then need to be included in Facebook public, searchable political ad library for seven years.

Go deeper

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

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.

WSJ: Bloomberg pays Californians to support him on social media

Photo: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Michael Bloomberg's presidential campaign is paying hundreds of Californians to regularly post endorsements about the billionaire on their personal social media accounts and send positive text messages to friends about the candidate on a regular basis, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: The effort, which could cost millions of dollars, comes just weeks before California's March 3 primary and is one more tactic in the campaign's broader social media strategy, which includes paying meme influencers on Instagram.

Europe nixes Facebook's plea for friendly rules

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Facebook is doubling down on its big pitch to lawmakers across the globe: regulate us.

Yes, but: Key regulators aren't buying it. Hours after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with lawmakers in Europe to discuss the company's new proposals for regulation, a French commissioner overseeing the EU's data strategy rejected the plan, saying "It’s not enough. It’s too slow, it’s too low in terms of responsibility and regulation."