Earlier this week, Instagram was awash with screenshots of Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg asking the platform's most popular meme accounts: "Can you post a viral image of me to your account?"
But it also illuminated the nebulous rules around political ads on Facebook and Instagram, with many wondering if the ads were, in fact, real — thus prompting a sponsored content policy change. Moving forward, political candidates will be allowed to post ads on the platforms, so long as they are disclosed as such with the proper Ad Library tools.
"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. 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," said a Facebook company spokesperson to Refinery29. "After hearing from multiple campaigns, we agree that there’s a place for branded content in political discussion on our platforms. 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.”
Which is to say — it is not sufficient to simply write "sponsored by @mikebloomberg" in the caption. Ads of this nature will require a "Paid Partnership with" designation from now on. This kind of content qualifies as branded content, which is different from straight advertising, because, according to TechCrunch, it cannot be targeted and Facebook doesn't earn anything from it.
This change comes on the heels of Facebook's refusal to fact-check all political ads, which made waves once again last fall following Twitter's decision to ban political ads on its platform altogether. According to TechCrunch, sponsored content on Instagram written in the voice of a politician is not eligible for fact-checking, which means that these Bloomberg memes are off-limits.