Facebook to allow influencers to produce sponsored content for political campaigns

Facebook to allow influencers to produce sponsored content for political campaigns
© Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Facebook on Friday announced it will allow social media influencers to produce sponsored content for political campaigns, as long as they clearly disclose who paid for their posts. 

The social media giant established the new guidelines amid scrutiny over a flood of memes on Instagram sponsored by Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg this week, which were not overtly labeled as "branded content." Facebook owns Instagram.

A Facebook company spokesperson said in a statement that the platform has determined "there's a place" for campaign-sponsored influencer content on its platforms, as long as it's properly labeled. For now, the rules will only apply to U.S. politicians.

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"We believe it’s important people know when they’re seeing paid content on our platforms," the spokesperson said. "After hearing from multiple campaigns, we agree that there’s a place for branded content in political discussion on our platforms."

"We’re allowing US-based political candidates to work with creators to run this content, provided the political candidates are authorized and the creators disclose any paid partnerships through our branded content tools," the spokesperson noted. 

It's a change from Facebook's previous policies, which barred political entities from running branded content. Facebook said it is currently evolving its approach on the novel issue.

This week, the Bloomberg campaign began paying a string of social media influencers to post memes about the billionaire candidate. The posts from popular Instagram accounts all followed the same format: screenshots of direct messages from Bloomberg asking them to make memes for the campaign.

"Can you make a viral meme to let the younger demographic know I’m the cool candidate?” one of the screenshots shows Bloomberg asking @sonny5ideup. The screenshots imply Bloomberg offering up his billions of dollars in exchange for memes. 

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The New York Times on Thursday reported that Meme 2020, a company formed by popular Instagram influencers, was behind the sponsored-content campaign for Bloomberg. 

"Mike Bloomberg 2020 has teamed up with social creators to collaborate with the campaign, including the meme world,” said a Bloomberg campaign spokeswoman. “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 TrumpDonald John TrumpRussian sanctions will boomerang States, cities rethink tax incentives after Amazon HQ2 backlash A Presidents Day perspective on the nature of a free press MORE’s powerful digital operation.”

Many of the memes that circulated this week were not explicitly labeled as "sponsored." Facebook says they will be allowed to remain online as long as they are properly labeled.