Facebook announced Friday that it will allow social media influencers to post sponsored content for U.S. political campaigns and will not count such content as political ads.
Facebook previously prohibited political candidates from running branded content campaigns on its platform, but no longer under the new guidelines. Influencers must disclose who paid for the branded content campaigns, but the content will not be logged in Facebook’s advertising library since the social media giant does not profit from it. An exception would be if the post creator pays to boost their posts, in which case Facebook will count them as ads.
“We believe it’s important people know when they’re seeing paid content on our platforms,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement, adding that the company has heard from “multiple campaigns” and now agrees there is “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 said.
The move comes after Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg ran a branded content campaign this week using several popular meme accounts on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.
“Can you make a viral meme to let the younger demographic know I’m the cool candidate?” one of the sponsored posts read, showing Bloomberg talking to an influencer.
Critics of the campaign’s social media influencer content strategy noted that the Bloomberg meme posts were not labeled clearly enough as “sponsored,” an issue Facebook’s new policies aim to correct.
However, Facebook’s announcement that it will not log sponsored influencer content in its public ad library, which currently has stricter requirements for the disclosure of political ads, has rankled critics of Facebook’s transparency polices, who argue it will muddy the waters further as far as what is an ad and what is not.
Rival Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, who has accused Bloomberg of using his large fortune to buy the election, panned the company’s decision.
“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,” Warren wrote in a Friday tweet. “Mike Bloomberg cannot be allowed to buy an election with zero accountability.”
Last year, Facebook touted the ad library as a step towards “creating a new standard of transparency and authenticity for advertising.”
A representative for the Bloomberg campaign said the former New York City mayor’s meme campaign aims to compete with President Trump’s “powerful digital operation.”
“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,” the campaign spokesperson said.