From Facebook to TikTok, US political influencers are paid for posts

Platform Industry: TikTok app and Facebook

A voter registration project is compensating Latina moms for posting on social media about climate change, while a political action committee (PAC) is paying eight TikTok influencers for videos to help get the youth vote out for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

The tactic of paying so-called influencers and publishers for posting and creating political material is taking off across social media sites. While Facebook and Google are placing various pauses on election advertisements from the days round the US vote Tuesday, sponsored articles posted by social media creators remains allowed on their own platforms.

“We’re developing our plans right now around how to message during that time,” said Christian Tom, head of electronic partnerships at the Biden campaign. “I suspect that digital partners broadly … will be at the heart of how we address that communication need.”

Political groups and strategists say that they work with compensated micro-influencers – individuals with a few thousand engaged social media followers – that post on platforms such as Chinese-owned video app TikTok, YouTube and Facebook-owned Instagram and messaging support WhatsApp. Groups compensating micro-influencers and societal publishers for articles that this election have included innovative PAC NextGen America, conservative student group Turning Point USA and Democratic presidential campaigns.

But societal media investigators say the practice, which has scant national law, blurs lines over what constitutes an electronic ad and raises transparency questions.

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A TikTok spokeswoman said its ban on political advertisements also banned paid political influencer content. A spokesman for Twitter, that also does not allow political ads, stated its ban did not.

Under pressure to boost transparency after the 2016 election, several social networking companies launched public databases to track the political advertisements they’re paid to run. But sponsored content has not been included in these attempts.

“Facebook will quibble that this is something different from an ad because Facebook is not being directly paid for it,” said Laura Edelson, a researcher at New York University who works on a political ad transparency undertaking. “But this is an ad.”

She stated that as Facebook does not have visibility into financial relationships happening off its own platforms, it needs creators to label such posts with its own tools.

Researchers may use Facebook’s CrowdTangle tool to look for sponsored political material that utilizes these labels but state it’s hard to discover and analyze. Facebook also provides a live display for people to see a number of the content, but the spokeswoman said it does not plan to add any additional information.

On Facebook, Biden’s campaign is running paid partnerships with pages which range from left-leaning meme pages such as The Other 98% to The Pet Collective, a house for monster videos. It is also working with individual influencers, though it says these efforts are outstanding.

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The Trump effort did not respond to queries on if it had run any compensated social-media partnerships. Facebook’s CrowdTangle analytics tool also does not reveal any posts labeled as compensated partnerships with the effort.

Payment for political articles can range from $10 to a few thousand for a post, people and researchers involved with digital campaigns told journalists at our partner news agency Reuters.

Hougland said Main Street One has a network of six thousand micro-influencers, from truck drivers to coal miners, it fits with compensated social-media campaigns for marriages, political non-profits and applicants.

PAID POSTS

Inconsistent disclosure practices and also a lack of transparency tools make it difficult to track political paid partnerships online.

Tyler Bowyer, chief operating officer of Turning Point USA, said his group produced a massive network of micro-influencers, including those it compensates for work for example sharing or producing content, but said it will”very few official paid partnerships.” The conservative youth organization was recently linked with a community of paid teenagers posting messages without any disclosures.

About TikTok, influencers compensated from the pro-Biden political action committee The 99 Problems to create articles for a new account known as the’@houseof_us,’ with 19,000 followers and 79,000 enjoys, have not so far used disclaimers like #ad or #sponsored on the posts.

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“We’re going to these creators and asking them to make their own content supporting something that they believe in, we’re just asking to pay for their time,” explained Katie Longmyer, one of the PAC’s co-founders.

A TikTok spokeswoman stated sponsored content disclosures must be visible in a video’s caption. She said TikTok removes undisclosed paid political content once it becomes aware of it.

Even though the Federal Trade Commission requires social media influencers and founders to clearly tag sponsored posts, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) governs political advertisements.

FEC rules stipulate public online communications advocating for or against a candidate for a commission should have a disclaimer to advise who paid to the content, but it has not laid out specific guidelines for social-media influencers.

The team at Platform Executive hope you have enjoyed this news article. Initial reporting via our official content partners at Thomson Reuters. Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford. Editing by Nick Zieminski and Lisa Shumaker.

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