Welcome to Michael Bloomberg’s campaign, where we all live now. Also, I’m here as a friend to tell you that The Fight for Equal Rights Has Been One of the Great Fights of Mike’s Life.
Just offering information, information like Mike Bloomberg happens to be paying over 500 workers in California to text everyone in their contacts lists, according to the Wall Street Journal. This reportedly comes with the help of yet another dystopian campaign organizing app Outvote, ostensibly for “progressives” and “activists,” which enables campaigns to coordinate with volunteers who will unleash Bloombergian texts upon their unsuspecting friends in an effort to generate that feeling of real grassroots enthusiasm for a candidate. “Volunteers” can even look through their contacts lists to see how their friends have voted.
The “deputy digital organizers” reportedly make $2,500 per month to spend 20-30 hours a week sending a weekly text blast and posting daily on social media. That sounds a lot like a job posting for “deputy field organizers” on the site for the campaign outreach company Grindstone Field Solutions, which is soliciting resumes for “mapping personal networks via Outvote, communicating with connections to outline voter registration and candidate support, and influencing your people to support Mike!” An “unflappable commitment to electing Mike Bloomberg” is a must.
Yes, we love Mike, because last week’s FuckJerry meme blast told us to. But this drop is more of a covert operation. A Bloomberg spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal that the campaign isn’t compelling its deputies to label their posts, and they don’t have to. The Federal Election Commission’s rules on internet ads, last updated in 2006, don’t really cover this.
“Social media influencers are an issue that, at this point, hasn’t been addressed,” FEC spokesperson Christian Hilland told Gizmodo over the phone. FEC disclosure regulations seem to cover only ad spots paid out to social media companies, analogous to TV and radio–not to a person collecting a salary and then posting out “of his or her own volition,” Hilland said. And the FEC can’t currently update the rules because they need four commissioners to take a vote. (They’re left with three since FEC Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen resigned last August. The Senate has yet to vote on Trump’s 2017 nominee.)
So the decision to label the ads is left to the discretion of social media companies’ terms of service. As the Wall Street Journal notes, campaign staffers’ posts wouldn’t be considered ads on Facebook and therefore wouldn’t require sponcon disclosure. In its political ads policy, Snapchat reminds users that U.S. policy dictates that electoral ads must state whether they were authorized, but again, it doesn’t address the issue of staffers’ personally-stylized posts. Tiktok and Twitter have banned paid political ads.
In a statement to Gizmodo, a Snap spokesperson said: “we require users to follow our guidelines (which require disclosure for political ads) if they somehow run a paid promotion through some channel outside of our traditional ad marketplaces.” The spokesperson was unavailable for a follow-up when asked about whether Bloomberg’s professional influencer content falls under “paid promotion.”
A spokesperson for Twitter also seemed to indicate that these fall in the gray area, writing: “Twitter’s political ad ban specifically addresses promoted advertising products on Twitter. The policy does not cover organic content, which we specifically address here under ‘paid partnerships.’” In other words, if Mike Bloomberg were Coconut Water, or if Mike Bloomberg called his “deputy digital organizers” something like “influencers” or “partners,” this would be a different story. Federal Trade Commission guidelines for influencers make clear that users have to mark posts if they have any “material connection” to a brand, stating, unambiguously: “if you got anything of value to mention a product.”
Gizmodo was unable to reach the other aforementioned companies about their policies on Bloomberg’s astroturf campaign, but you’ll be hearing from Mike or a friend or an acquaintance or an influencer soon. Or unplug and quarantine til 2021, after the zombie influencer army has consumed the electorate’s brains, and they can tell us more about the products we all love.
Update 2/20: A representative for Michael Bloomberg’s campaign told Gizmodo via email that “these are not ads,” reasoning that the “deputy field organizers” have no required posting minimums. “These are staffers pushing out their own content, to their own social media channels.”
Update 2/20: A spokesperson for Facebook submitted the following statement: “We think it’s important that political campaigns have the guidance and tools to be transparent. That’s why we recommend campaign employees make the relationship clear on their accounts. We welcome clearer guidance from regulators in this area.”