Classroom Connection: Bloomberg’s social media strategy tests the rules


Peter Adams

I am NLP's senior vice president of education. My team runs all of our professional learning opportunities, including NewsLit Camps, and our resource and content development, including Checkology assets. Many years ago I taught middle school ELA and social studies, in an after school program for high schoolers and at the college level.

The innovative and aggressive social media strategy of Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaign is testing the limits of newly established political advertising policies at social media companies.

Earlier this month, the campaign paid people behind highly influential accounts on Instagram to post humorous memes supporting Bloomberg’s candidacy. In response, Facebook — which owns Instagram — said that it would allow such posts, but only if they adhered to its disclosure guidelines. This prompted the accounts involved in the Bloomberg meme promotion to do so retroactively. Facebook also said the resulting memes are not subject to approval like other political ads. The company did say that unlike posts by candidates and campaigns, they will be subject to Facebook’s third-party fact-checking program.

Paid organizers

More recently, the Bloomberg campaign hired hundreds of “deputy field organizers,” ordinary people who agree to promote Bloomberg as a candidate on their personal and online networks. The organizers are paid $2,500 a month and are sent pre-approved campaign messaging to use (or adapt) in text messages and social media posts. But the strategy resulted in dozens of identical posts that resembled automated messages posted by bots. After the Los Angeles Times asked Twitter about the posts, the platform last week announced that the practice violated its platform manipulation and spam policy. It also said it was suspending 70 pro-Bloomberg accounts.

Finally, the campaign on Thursday published a video composed of clips from last week’s Democratic debate that added a long, awkward pause, baffled looks from the other candidates and cricket sound effects after Bloomberg said, “I’m the only one here that, I think, that’s ever started a business, is that fair?” The post touched off an online debate about the line between manipulated and satirical content and how social media platforms should respond to the video. Twitter — which confirmed last week that it is working on a new policy to address misinformation after a demonstration of new features was leaked — said the video would likely violate its new policy against manipulated media. However it also said it wouldn’t retroactively apply a disclaimer. Facebook said the video would be protected under the platform’s existing exemption for parody or satire.

Please note

Russian disinformation agents also used some of Bloomberg’s social media strategy tactics in 2016.

For the classroom

Is the Bloomberg campaign’s social media strategy savvy and smart, or misleading and unethical? Do you agree with the ways Twitter and Facebook (including Instagram) have handled the issues that have arisen? Do the memes that the campaign paid influential Instagram users to make qualify as “sponsored content”? What about the posts and text messages from the campaign’s “deputy field organizers”?

Related reading

“Bloomberg News’s Dilemma: How to Cover a Boss Seeking the Presidency” (Michael M. Grynbaum, The New York Times).

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