In the latest change to the ever-evolving landscape of social media ad policies, Facebook will allow U.S. political candidates to run sponsored content, via influencers, without classifying these items as political advertisements. Therefore, the sponsored content will not be cataloged in Facebook’s advertising library. Content will only appear in the advertising library if the account pays Facebook to promote the ad via the platform’s advertising tools, for example by boosting the post.
Sponsored or branded content is content that a social media influencer is paid to post and promote. Facebook does not profit from sponsored or branded content and consequently, does not count these posts as advertisements. Facebook requires paid partnership content to be clearly marked as such.
“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,” a Facebook spokesperson stated. “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.”
Previously, Facebook had prevented political groups from using the platform’s tools for branded or sponsored content, but now it has spelled out that influencers may post this content for politicians if they disclose this is branded or sponsored content.
Facebook’s policy change came after popular meme accounts on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, ran sponsored content campaigns for presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg. Prior to this incident, Facebook did not have a policy for influencers who created content for political campaigns. The memes follow the same format of fake text message screenshots, to the effect of, asking the Instagram account, “Can you make a viral meme to let the younger demographic know I’m the cool candidate?” These memes will be allowed to remain on the platform as long as they are labeled properly.
“The campaign was explicitly clear that these posts were ads and sponsored content,” a Bloomberg spokesperson stated. “We went above and beyond to follow Instagram’s rules and the text of the post clearly shows these are the campaign’s paid ads.”
“After hearing from multiple campaigns, we agree that there’s a place for branded content in political discussion on our platforms,” a Facebook spokesperson said.
Facebook will require politicians to have their identity verified in order to be authorized to run the sponsored content on the platform.
Facebook has had varying policies on political advertisements. Facebook had originally stated that it was not going to fact check political ads, in an effort to not suppress speech; this has been critiqued by regulators. Then, Facebook considered changing its political ad policy in late November. However, Facebook monitors ads for legal purposes, such as IP rights. Facebook had banned misleading Census ads. Facebook also worked to mitigate deepfakes on its platform.
The FTC has also required influencers to clearly label sponsored content as ads, however, most of this content was for consumer goods. The FTC announced it would ask the public if it should have harsher penalties for mislabeling.