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It seems that some publishers have found a nice little loophole to avoid violating Facebook’s terms of service for sponsored content. An entire industry has popped up around paying celebrities to share articles without indicating that the content is essentially sponsored.

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It’s well known that online publishers have faced a tough battle with Facebook’s ever-changing news feed algorithm. The interactions that occur on the company’s platform have been credited with driving up to 75% of traffic to popular websites. Well-funded outfits are willing to pay for traffic, publish directly to the platform, or do pretty much anything Mark Zuckerberg wants. Now, specialist agencies are connecting top content makers with influential tastemakers to spread those articles that would hit the dustbin from lack of exposure.

Digiday reports that companies like Cybrid Media and Contempo are handling the brokerage of deals for sites like Mic, Rolling Stone, Slate and Knowable.

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The report doesn’t definitively name celebrity clients but it points to stars like George Takei, Lil Wayne and uh ... DJ Pauly D as examples of having suspicious content choices and sharing of a single publisher’s work. In the case of the ex-Jersey Shore celeb, he’s shared nothing but articles from Ashton Kutcher’s startup A-Plus over the last month. Takei has a suspicious “affinity” for known pay-to-play clients as well. But perhaps the most interesting publisher is a Lil Wayne favorite, Providr.

An offshoot of this type of advertising, Providr specifically tailors the content it makes based on what celebrities it has paid to push its work. What’s more, Gary Lipovetsky, the co-founder of Providr, claims that the site has customized the look and feel based on which influencer a link is coming from. This theoretically leads to longer engagement time. He says, “Our AI learns what a user is more prone to enjoy.”

So far, Facebook has either looked the other way or doesn’t know how to regulate this violation of its terms of service. Sponsored content is now required to be labeled by verified page owners under threat of having the post taken down and it could lead to stricter punishment in the future. Sites in the Gizmodo Media network have had issues with non-sponsored posts being labeled as such and the best option so far has just been to live with it. Gizmodo and its affiliates always clearly label sponsored content and it is handled by a team that is completely separate from editorial.

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It’s unclear if Facebook will see this practice as a threat or an opportunity. Right now, company’s like Cybrid Media are making bank by charging less than Facebook’s rates to promote a post. But it seems inevitable that Zuckerberg will want to create an in-house agency of his own.

[Digiday via Boing Boing]