Tech companies are struggling to regulate new types of campaign tactics and civic engagement on their platforms ahead of this year's election.
Why it matters: After the 2016 election, Silicon Valley vowed to do better at stopping election manipulation on their platforms. But unforeseen uses of their platforms have again caught them off guard amid real-time campaigning.
- Facebook had to clarify its rules around sponsored content for political advertisers last week after it was reported that Bloomberg's campaign was paying top Instagram influencers to post memes on the campaign's behalf. It also had to clarify its rules around whether paid political campaign staffers could post content supporting their candidate.
- Twitter suspended 70 pro-Bloomberg accounts on Friday for violating its platform manipulation rules. A Twitter official told the Washington Post earlier that week that a heavily edited video posted by Bloomberg would likely be labeled as false under its new manipulated media policy.
- Internet TV platforms like Roku and Hulu have also become problematic. As The Washington Post notes, campaign finance experts are concerned about the lack of regulation around digital TV political ads.
The big picture: Regulators haven't provided much guidance to make these choices easier for tech companies, and tech companies worry that self-regulation puts them at risk of appearing biased.
- 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 explicitly.
- On the political side, campaigns are 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 guidelines recently.
This makes it confusing for platforms to know where they are supposed to draw the lines around things like branded content and paid posts on behalf of campaigns and candidates.
- Some states are taking matters into their own hands by enforcing their own state-wide campaign finance laws, most notably Washington state. But even those rules have proven very tricky to enforce.
Be smart: Efforts to get creative in online advertising are growing more common as campaigns look for new ways to target voters, without having to rely mostly on Facebook and Google.
- Axios reported two weeks ago that the Trump campaign is experimenting with new ad strategies on different publishers and ad networks, including conservative podcasts.
The bottom line: Without clearer guidance from regulators, it's hard for platforms to know the best solution about how they should be policing political speech and political ads.
What's next: Rep. David Cicilline, who chairs the House Antitrust Subcommittee, is reportedly preparing legislation aimed at removing liability protections from tech platforms that don't take down false political ads, per Bloomberg Law.
Go deeper: Older candidates take the lead on social media