Facebook takes issue with Michael Bloomberg’s stealthy campaign posts

February 25, 2020, 1:15 AM UTC

Facebook has flagged Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaign for posting messages on Facebook without disclosing who is paying for them.

The social network said it has asked the campaign workers who posted the messages through their personal accounts to retroactively disclose that the posts are sponsored by Bloomberg. But it’s unclear whether the Facebook plans to delete the posts if the candidate’s team ignores the request.

“We think it’s important that political campaigns have the guidance and tools to be transparent,” Facebook said in a statement. “That’s why we recommend campaign employees make the relationship clear on their accounts.”

Sabrina Singh, a Bloomberg campaign spokeswoman, said in a statement that the initiative “was not intended to mislead anyone.” The project involved campaign staff and volunteers contacting their friends and families through Facebook to get their support. Contrary to what Facebook told Fortune, Singh said that Facebook has yet to contact the campaign about its concerns.

The news about Facebook and Bloomberg’s tussle comes as social media companies face rising scrutiny for how they handle political ads and content. Last year, Twitter announced a ban of all political ads. Facebook, in contrast, has taken a hands-off approach, saying it doesn’t want to stifle free speech to the point that politicians are free to lie in ads. 

Bloomberg’s campaign, funded by the candidates personal wealth, has hired an army of digital organizers who are paid $2,500 monthly for 20 to 30 hours of work, according to the Wall Street Journal. The campaign says the strategy is a digital version of knocking on doors and sending text messages. It’s not much different than a small group of staffers promoting their candidate via their own social network accounts—other than being much larger in scale, according to the campaign.

Technically, the messages aren’t ads. Despite that, Twitter suspended 70 accounts that posted pro-Bloomberg messages for violating the service’s rules against spam and “platform manipulation,” according to the Los Angeles Times

Facebook, meanwhile, said it’s exploring additional tools that would allow users to better identify content that campaigns post. It also said it’s working with presidential campaigns to help them better understand how to use disclosure tools. 

However, Facebook said it cannot assume a monetary relationship exists simply because a candidate or campaign is mentioned. All people who post branded content are required to disclose when content is sponsored or risk it being removed.

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