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Mike Bloomberg’s Sponcon Memelords Won’t Be Subject To Facebook’s Political Ad Regulations

The announcement comes two days after dozens of meme accounts promoted Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg’s campaign.

Posted on February 14, 2020, at 12:35 p.m. ET

Facebook said Friday that it would not add posts that politicians commission from influencers to its public ad library, a tool that saves information about advertisements that companies and individuals pay the social network to broadcast. The ad library, which captures all ads in which Facebook makes money across properties like Instagram and Messenger, also has more stringent requirements for the disclosure of political ads.

Given the platform’s policy of not fact-checking political ads, the platform plans to advise its third-party fact-checkers on when to fact-check speech contained in the sponsored posts.

The platform’s announcement about sponsored political content comes two days after a group of Instagram meme accounts, including @FuckJerry and @Tank.Sinatra, posted sponcon for Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York. Since April 2012, Facebook has owned Instagram.

Sponsored influencer posts created for politicians will be added to Facebook’s Ad Library if the influencer pays money to boost them as 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 told BuzzFeed News.

Facebook plans to give guidance to third-party fact-checkers about when to fact-check political speech contained in sponsored influencer posts. If the speech is clearly that of the politician paying for the content, it won't be fact-checked. If it’s in the voice of the creator, it will be eligible.

Facebook currently exempts politicians from third-party fact-checking and allows them to post content that would otherwise be against community guidelines.

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

Last September, as the country waited for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to announce a formal impeachment investigation into Trump, Nick Clegg — Facebook’s vice president of global affairs and communications and the former deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom — reiterated Facebook's policy. Clegg’s announcement caused as much confusion as it was designed to quell.

“We do not submit speech by politicians to our independent fact-checkers, and we generally allow it on the platform even when it would otherwise breach our normal content rules,” Clegg said at the time. “Of course, there are exceptions. Broadly speaking they are twofold: where speech endangers people and where we take money, which is why we have more stringent rules on advertising than we do for ordinary speech and rhetoric.”

The Bloomberg meme campaign on Wednesday included many accounts with several million followers each, which formed a company called Meme 2020. They are @MyTherapistSays, @WhitePeopleHumor, @TheFunnyIntrovert, @KaleSalad, @Sonny5ideUp, @Tank.Sinatra, @ShitheadSteve, @Adam.the.Creator, @Moistbudda, @MrsDowJones, @TrashCanPaul, @Cohmedy, @NeatDad, @FourTwenty, @GolfersDoingThings, @DrGrayFang, @MiddleClassFancy, and @DoYouEvenLift.

The @KaleSalad meme account is run by BuzzFeed employee Samir Mezrahi. The company allowed him to post the sponsored content as a member of its Creators Program, which permits some non-news employees to monetize their own social media channels.

“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,” the Facebook spokesperson said. “That’s why we have an Ad Library where anyone can see who paid for an ad and why we require creators to disclose any paid partnerships through our branded content tools.”

Facebook previously prohibited political entities from running branded content to avoid being seen as donating money to political campaigns. The social network changed its guidelines because it doesn’t pay users via the branded content tool.

“Tank you’re a beautiful man, but this is an L,” @thefatjewish said.

The lead strategist for Meme 2020 is reportedly Mick Purzycki, CEO of Jerry Media, the company behind @FuckJerry. @FuckJerry has been criticized for stealing memes — including in a copyright lawsuit that was later dropped — and helped promote the disastrous Fyre Festival. BuzzFeed News has reached out to @FuckJerry for comment.

The Bloomberg campaign’s use of meme accounts caused controversy. Josh Ostrovsky, who runs the account @thefatjewish, which is often compared to @FuckJerry, criticized @Tank.Sinatra in a comment on his post.

“Tank you’re a beautiful man, but this is an L,” @thefatjewish said.

Ostrovsky added that he had been approached to participate in the campaign but declined based on Bloomberg’s record.

"Mike Bloomberg 2020 has teamed up with social creators to collaborate with the campaign, including the meme world,” Bloomberg campaign spokesperson Sabrina Singh told BuzzFeed News. “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 Trump's powerful digital operation."

Singh declined to comment on how much the campaign has paid for sponcon.

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