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Facebook Allows ‘Branded Content’ for US Elections After Mike Bloomberg Pioneers Paid Memes

© REUTERS / Dado RuvicA 3D plastic representation of the Facebook logo is seen in this illustration in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina
A 3D plastic representation of the Facebook logo is seen in this illustration in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina - Sputnik International
According to Facebook’s own terms, branded content is something produced by a creator to promote a business partner who pays for it. The policy change came after an avalanche of awkward Mike Bloomberg-sponsored memes on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.

Facebook has authorised political campaigns and candidates in the US to run branded content that doesn’t classify as political advertising.

“After hearing from multiple campaigns, we agree that there’s a place for branded content in political discussion on our platforms,” a company spokesman said in a statement on Friday.

Facebook had previously barred political campaigns from using its Branded Content tool to spread their message, and they had to pay for political ads, which belong to a separate category with more stringent rules.

What’s branded content?

Branded posts feature content produced by a creator who is paid by a business partner to engage with a wider audience. They typically promote fashion and beauty brands, and the publisher (often an influencer with a sizeable online following) must tag the partner that is paying them on all sponsored posts to maintain transparency.

Such content previously didn’t fall into the scope of Facebook’s ad polices because it wasn’t considered advertising.

What will change now?

With the new rules, the influencers will be required to clearly identify these posts as being sponsored by a candidate or a campaign by attaching a disclaimer about who had paid for them.

The politician, however, won’t have to disclose how much they paid for the posts, which also won’t appear in Facebook’s ad library – a collection of all ads, including political ones, running across the platform.

In addition, the new rules will not include posts about a politician that weren’t paid for.

Why does it come now?

The change was announced shortly after Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg became the trailblazer in sponsored political content.

Bloomberg, who has already spent about $350 million on campaign ads, has been trending on Instagram after a number of influencers began sharing what appear to be his awkward direct messages.

They show the 78-year-old entrepreneur reaching out to popular Instagram accounts in a self-deprecating fashion, asking them something akin to: “Can you post a meme that lets everyone know I’m the cool candidate?” All posts featured a disclaimer stating that they had been compensated by Bloomberg.

The Bloomberg campaign, which is working with veteran internet entrepreneurs, has reached an estimated audience of about 60 million with its recent social media blitz. The campaign would not comment on the fees it offered to influencers, but there have been reports of $150 per one sponsored post for smaller accounts that have up to 100,000 followers.

Facebook, which also owns Instagram, has tightened its rules around political ads ahead of this year’s US presidential election, requiring advertisers to include a “paid for by” label and verify their identity and location.

Another major social media platform, Twitter, has banned political ads altogether worldwide, while Facebook’s main rival, Google, has limited the use of political ads that target small segments of the population (a practice known as micro-targeting) and doesn’t allow political ads that make “false claims”.

Facebook, however, has repeatedly refused to ban or fact-check demonstrably false claims in political ads and also hasn't banned micro-targeting.

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