February 19, 2020
Facebook has made adjustments to its policy on digital political advertising after reports emerged that 2020 presidential candidates are paying Instagram influencers. It will now require candidates buying branded content to register as political advertisers. FTC commissioner Rohit Chopra stated that a 2017 policy requiring influencers and marketers to reveal any “material connection” to advertisers is under review, adding that, “we may need new rules for tech platforms and for companies that pay influencers to promote products.”
Bloomberg reports that, according to a Facebook spokeswoman, the company “has heard from multiple campaigns about the subject and wanted it to be easy for users to identify paid political speech, whether it was direct advertising or branded content.”
“Branded content is different from advertising, but in either case we believe it’s important people know when they’re seeing paid content on our platforms,” she added. Up until now, Facebook’s enforcement of its own rules — that influencers “use Facebook’s tool to tag paid posts with a prominent disclaimer” — has been “inconsistent.”
After a New York Times report that the campaign of presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg paid influencers to post on Instagram, Facebook stated that it will require, “users who worked with the Bloomberg campaign to retroactively add these disclaimers to branded posts the campaign sponsored.”
But Bloomberg campaign spokeswoman Sabrina Singh countered that, “the campaign was explicitly clear that these posts were ads and sponsored content.” “We went above and beyond to follow Instagram’s rules and the text of the post clearly shows that these are the campaign’s paid ads,” she added.
Under Facebook’s new policy, “unlike other political ads, branded posts won’t end up in Facebook’s ad archive unless the politician also pays Facebook to promote the posts.”
Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren criticized this loophole, stating that, “refusing to catalogue paid political ads because the Bloomberg campaign found a workaround means there will be less transparency for the content he is paying to promote.” “Mike Bloomberg cannot be allowed to buy an election with zero accountability,” she added.
Bloomberg reports that such sponsored content, also known as “sponcon,” has “pushed the boundaries of advertising for the last half-decade or so,” as marketers — and now political candidates — began to see influencers as “a viable alternative to standard advertising.”
At HYPR, which connects marketers with influencers, chief executive Gil Eyal noted that he’s seen more interest from “political entities,” but declined to name names. “We truthfully say this isn’t our forte,” he said. “I think they underestimate how hard this is to do.”