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5 methods political teams circumvent promoting bans

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Online platforms have made political advertising bans a central part of their plans to curb the spread of disinformation related to the US election. Twitter moved early and banned political ads in October 2019. Facebook stopped accepting new ads last week and will be removing all old and new political ads indefinitely after polls closed on Tuesday (the ban also applies to Instagram). Google and YouTube, meanwhile, will remove all political ads for "at least a week" once the polls are closed.

Turning off the spigot for political advertising is intended to limit the risk of sophisticated propaganda campaigns that can lead to more confusion or unrest. But that doesn't mean you won't hear anything from factions at all: due to the way each platform's rules work, you will still hear a lot after the polls are complete, and in some cases they will still pay to reach you. With legal challenges, campaigns may need to raise funds even after November 3rd, which means messages may continue to arrive for months.

For all platforms, what constitutes a "political ad" is camouflaged in legal terms, but generally means paid content that mentions a campaign, candidate, election or social issue from advertisers, including political action committees and nonprofits will.

Here are some of the routes and gaps they will use:

Candidates themselves

Election candidates and election campaigns will continue to be published on their social media accounts. This includes personal accounts and any groups or pages related to their campaign, party, or targeted interest group. It is likely that organizations are coordinating the exchange of these messages in order to reach the audiences they previously paid to reach.

If a candidate declares victory before the official election results, Twitter and Facebook have committed to adding labels to those posts. Both companies say they will be removing areas that incite violence. However, there are concerns about the rigorous enforcement of these guidelines.

Direct messages

Political SMS has exploded during these elections and texts are likely to get on your phone beyond Tuesday. Without social media advertising, texting is the easiest way for campaigns to send messages to people outside of their support network. Cell phone number data is publicly available to both campaigners and stakeholders, and the channel bypasses the Federal Election Commission (FEC) regulations on political disclosures. Text messages are also notoriously difficult to review: watch out for hard-to-follow texts that claim a winner.

Email is also a popular channel for campaign communication and will certainly continue to arrive after the surveys are completed.

Influencer

The use of influencers for political campaigns, especially on Instagram, exploded in 2020, and the Biden and Bloomberg campaigns used influencers as part of their outreach strategy. Facebook has stated that Instagram influencers who are paid by a campaign or other group that typically have ad restrictions will be subject to political ad disclosure and removal requirements.

Recent research shows that disclosure is not consistent. In addition, voluntary influencer messaging networks are not subject to any restrictions as long as they only volunteer at times, according to the FEC. Networks of celebrities and “nano-influencers” can publish unpaid messages even if the messages themselves are written, designed and coordinated through political campaigns.

Campaign apps

Both presidential campaigns have developed apps for their supporters that allow them to send unlimited push notifications to users. The reach of the apps is obviously limited to those who have downloaded them and includes many of the base supporters of each candidate. The Trump campaign app, in particular, collects a lot of monitoring data about its users, including location and bluetooth tracking so that notifications can be sent based on geographic triggers.

Coordinated communication networks

Organic networks of friends and family are a great way for political campaigns to get support because they have trust and personalization. Campaigns and candidates are likely to continue to communicate over these networks using scripts and text templates that supporters can talk to on their networks in private, unregulated spaces.

For example, a friend of yours may receive a text message from the Trump campaign that includes a template to be shared, or from the Biden campaign asking them to contact friends with specific messages.

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Steven Gregory