Facebook to allow paid political messages that aren’t ads

Facebook on Friday, Feb. 14, 2020, decided to allow a type of paid political message that sidesteps many of the social network’s rules governing political ads. (File/AP/Richard Drew)
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Updated 14 February 2020

Facebook to allow paid political messages that aren’t ads

  • Facebook makes no money from such posts and does not consider them advertising
  • The Bloomberg campaign took the unconventional step of paying social media influencers — individuals with huge followings — to post Bloomberg memes using their Instagram accounts

SAN FRANCISCO: Facebook decided Friday to allow a type of paid political message that had sidestepped many of the social network’s rules governing political ads.
Its policy change comes days after presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg exploited a loophole to run such humorous messages promoting his campaign on the accounts of popular Instagram personalities followed by millions of younger people.
The change involves what Facebook calls “branded content” — sponsored items posted by ordinary users who are typically paid by companies or organizations. Advertisers pay the influential users directly to post about their brand.
Facebook makes no money from such posts and does not consider them advertising. As a result, branded content isn’t governed by Facebook’s advertising policies, which require candidates and campaigns to verify their identity with a US ID or mailing address and disclose how much they spent running each ad.
Until Friday, Facebook tried to deter the use of paid posts through influential users as political messages. Specifically, it barred political campaigns from using a tool designed to help advertisers run branded posts on Facebook and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. Friday’s rule change will now allow campaigns in the US to use this tool, provided they’ve been authorized by Facebook to run political ads and disclose who paid for the sponsored posts.
The Bloomberg campaign took the unconventional step of paying social media influencers — individuals with huge followings — to post Bloomberg memes using their Instagram accounts. Different versions of the sponsored posts from the Bloomberg campaign ran on more than a dozen influential Instagram accounts, each of which have millions of followers.
That effort skirted many of the rules that tech companies have imposed on political ads to safeguard US elections from malicious foreign and domestic interference and misinformation. Online political ads have been controversial, especially after it was revealed Russia used them in an attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election. In response, Facebook has rolled out a number of rules to prevent a repeat of that, though it has declined to fact-check political ads and refuses to ban even blatently false messages.
The Bloomberg campaign’s memes showed the 78-year-old candidate, in a tongue-in-cheek awkward fashion, chatting with popular social media influencers with names like “Tank Sinatra,” asking them to help him raise his profile among younger folk.
“Can you post a meme that lets everyone know I’m the cool candidate?” Bloomberg wrote in one of the exchanges posted by an account called F(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk) Jerry, which has nearly 15 million followers on Instagram. The candidate then sent a photo of him wearing baggy chino shorts, an orange polo and a zip-up vest.
F(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk) Jerry’s account then replied, “Ooof that will cost like a billion dollars.” Bloomberg responded by asking where to send the money.
With the sponsored posts, Bloomberg’s campaign said it was reaching those who might not be normally interested in the day-to-day of politics.
“You want to engage people at every platform and you want them to feel like they’re not just getting a canned generic statement,” campaign spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said of the campaign’s strategy.
The campaign declined to say how much it paid for the sponsored posts, or if it had more of them in the works. The posts did not appear in Facebook’s ad transparency library, which catalogs the political ads that campaigns buy directly from Facebook or Instagram, and tells users how much was spent on them. Bloomberg’s campaign told The Associated Press on Thursday that Instagram does not currently require the campaign to disclose that information on the sponsored posts it ran earlier this week.


Qatar’s BeIN chairman, two others indicted in bribery case

Updated 20 February 2020

Qatar’s BeIN chairman, two others indicted in bribery case

  • Former FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke charged with accepting bribes, among others
  • Al-Khelaifi charged with inciting Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement

GENEVA: Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi was charged Thursday by Swiss federal prosecutors in connection with a wider bribery investigation linked to World Cup television rights.

The office of Switzerland’s attorney general filed an indictment charging Al-Khelaifi with inciting former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke “to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.”

The Qatari football and television executive, however, no longer faces an accusation of bribery. Following a three-year investigation, FIFA reached an “amicable agreement” with Al-Khelaifi last month, prosecutors said, to drop its criminal complaint relating to the awarding of 2026 and 2030 World Cup rights to Qatari broadcaster BeIN Sports.

Al-Khelaifi is the head of Doha-based BeIN Sports and also a member of the UEFA executive committee.

Al-Khelaifi was indicted for his alleged part in providing Valcke — who had influence over the awarding of World Cup rights until being removed from office in 2015 — with use of a luxury villa in Sardinia without paying rent valued at up to €1.8 million ($1.94 million).

Valcke was charged with accepting bribes, “several counts of aggravated criminal mismanagement … and falsification of documents.”

For the first time in the five-year investigation of FIFA business, Swiss prosecutors revealed that they believe Valcke received kickbacks totaling €1.25 million to steer World Cup rights toward favored broadcasters in Italy and Greece.

A third person who was not identified was charged with bribery over those payments and also for inciting Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.

Al-Khelaifi was appointed to the UEFA executive committee, representing European football clubs, one year ago despite being implicated in the bribery case. He is also an influential board member of the European Club Association, which is seeking to drive reforms in the Champions League to favor elite clubs such as French champion PSG.

He denied wrongdoing after being questioned in 2017 and 2019 in connection with criminal proceedings opened three years ago.

Al-Khelaifi has also been implicated in a separate corruption investigation by French prosecutors that is linked to Qatar seeking hosting rights for the track and field world championships. Doha hosted the 2019 edition.