Bloomberg Bankrolls a Social-Media Army to Push Message

Campaign is hiring workers for $2,500 per month to promote Bloomberg to all their contacts

Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaign is hiring hundreds of workers in California to post regularly on their personal social-media accounts in support of the candidate and send text messages to their friends about him.

The effort, which could cost millions of dollars, is launching ahead of California’s March 3 primary and could later be deployed nationwide, according to people familiar with the matter and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. It is one of the most unorthodox yet by the heavy-spending billionaire and blurs the lines between traditional campaign organizing and the distribution of sponsored content.

Most campaigns encourage their supporters to post on social media about their candidates, but paying them at this scale to express support on their personal accounts is unusual, experts say.

A California staffer and the documents reviewed by the Journal describe a multimillion-dollar-a-month effort aimed at helping Mr. Bloomberg attract support after having entered the race long after other candidates had built their ground campaigns. The documents also say the campaign is adopting a strategy, which it credits the Trump campaign with using to great effect, to try to influence potential voters through people they know and trust rather than strangers.

Examples of messages that the Bloomberg campaign suggests supporters send to their friends via OutVote, an app the campaign is paying workers to use.

To staff the effort, the campaign is hiring more than 500 “deputy digital organizers” to work 20 to 30 hours a week and receive $2,500 a month, the documents show. In exchange, those workers are expected to promote Mr. Bloomberg to everyone in their phones’ contacts by text each week and make social-media posts supporting him daily, the documents show.

“The Fight for Equal Rights Has Been One of the Great Fights of Mike’s Life,” reads one such suggested prompt regarding Mr. Bloomberg’s early support for same-sex marriage.

Publicly available job applications for those positions require applicants to provide their social-media handles for review and state that staffers may be asked to undertake more traditional field-organizing work like phone banking.

Helping organize the effort is Outvote, an app that enables users to send pre-written texts, post campaign materials to social media and send data back to campaigns. The app, funded by Higher Ground Labs, a Democratic political technology incubator, generally focuses on pushing volunteers to send content. Outvote also allows users to look up whether their friends have voted in past elections by matching their contact lists against public data.

A spokeswoman for the campaign characterized the workers being paid to promote Mr. Bloomberg as the future of political organizing. “We are meeting voters everywhere on any platform that they consume their news,” a spokeswoman for the Bloomberg campaign said. “One of the most effective ways of reaching voters is by activating their friends and network to encourage them to support Mike for president.”

Facebook Inc.’s policies historically have addressed the worlds of political advertising and influencer marketing as separate. The company has only recently begun to grapple with the intersection of the two.

It is not clear if messages like those the Bloomberg campaign is suggesting would need to be labeled as sponsored content under Facebook’s disclosure rules. A Facebook spokeswoman said posts by outside “content creators” would require labels if a campaign paid for them, but that posts by campaign employees wouldn’t need to be labeled as ads. The company didn’t address how it would categorize posts by employees paid to promote content to their personal social networks.

A review of social-media posts by some people being paid by the campaign found they aren’t labeled as sponsored content.

Officials at the U.S. Federal Trade Commissiohave said that merely tagging a brand or business on social media is a form of endorsement that falls under its purview–and should be disclosed if an audience would view an endorsement differently knowing that an influencer had financially benefited from the brand.

How Presidential Debates Transformed Over Time

How Presidential Debates Transformed Over Time
Televised presidential debates have been a mainstay of modern American politics for the past sixty years. In this video, Wall Street Journal Executive Washington Editor Jerry Seib breaks down how they’ve changed over time and what we can expect in 2020. Photo: Elise Amendola/AP

The Bloomberg campaign spokeswoman said that the campaign doesn’t believe posts from its deputy field organizers need to be labeled, describing them as a new form of political organizing rather than paid influencer content.

Political campaigns have long used a combination of volunteers and paid workers to do things like run phone banks and knock on doors to support a candidate. But experts said the Bloomberg campaign’s willingness to pay to leverage supporters’ existing social connections is novel.

James Thurber, professor of government at American University, said groups promoting political issues sometimes use similar strategies of paying people to express support online, but it is unusual from a candidate. “It’s classic AstroTurf tactics,” he said. “When you have unlimited resources the way Bloomberg seems to, you can do that.

The Trump campaign includes staff dedicated to digital and social media, but it doesn’t compensate people to post on their personal social media accounts, a spokeswoman said.

At least until recently, the Bloomberg campaign also planned to recruit another 2,500 campaign “digital organizing fellows” who would be paid $500 a month in exchange for posting daily on social media and putting every person in their contact list into the Bloomberg campaign’s database, according to documents reviewed by the Journal and a deputy organizer who had been told to expect to oversee five of the fellows.

The campaign spokeswoman said that it had decided not to proceed with the “fellows.” She also said the campaign had changed the title of the $2,500-a-month deputy digital roles to “deputy field organizer” to reflect that the role may also include more traditional campaign activities.

Bloomberg’s spending has helped spark a rise in the polls, enabling him to qualify for Wednesday’s Democratic debate.

Though he only declared his candidacy late last year, Mr. Bloomberg has exceeded the advertising spending of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar combined.

The Bloomberg campaign also recently worked with an offshoot of media and marketing company Jerry Media to contract with large meme accounts to push the campaign, the New York Times has reported, leading Facebook last week to clarify its rules around such posts.

The Bloomberg campaign will suggest content for sharing and exert some control over the social-media outreach efforts, according to the documents reviewed by the Journal. Though the Bloomberg campaign won’t have direct access or authority over its organizers’ social-media feeds, a team of quality-control staff will verify that the organizers are posting appropriately.

“Ha! Even Republicans think Mike is our best bet to defeat Trump! Let’s prove them right,” said one suggested message for text or social media, linking to a news article citing conservative political operatives bullish about Mr. Bloomberg’s chances.

The campaign’s approach is fine with at least some unpaid Bloomberg supporters, like Jason Miller.

A rabbi in Michigan who runs a social-media marketing company, Mr. Miller said he believes the former New York mayor is “a mensch” and that his willingness to spend a vast amount on his campaign makes him uniquely suited to beating Donald Trump.

He said he believes it is important to be transparent about paid commercial promotions, but he views the ethics of political activism as less clear.

“With a campaign, there is a gray area,” he said, noting the standard campaign practice of assigning both volunteers and paid staff to phone bank and knock on doors. While it is possible there should be clearer lines drawn in social media, he said, “it took decades for TV and radio to figure out what disclosure for ads should be.”

Elizabeth Warren’s Sad Sick Joke

It was no wonder the public tuned out the CFPB narrative that Democrats have repeated since they controlled Congress and the White House and passed the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, which created the bureau. The plot never changes — before Cordray’s resignation, Republicans opposed the bureau because it kept the financial industry honest; now they restrain the CFPB so businesses can cheat consumers.

.. The Dodd-Frank Act forbids the Federal Trade Commission and the CFPB from conducting independent inquiries into the same matter. Cordray may have authorized an investigation of the Equifax data breach, but the FTC ended up conducting the full-scale probe.

.. Cordray and Warren, who helped draft the law, surely recognized Rucker’s sleight-of-hand. Nevertheless, the senator tweeted, “Another middle finger from @MickMulvaneyOMB to consumers: he’s killed the @CFPB’s probe into the #EquifaxBreach.”

.. Since 2010, Republicans have objected to the lack of legislative and executive checks on a regulator with so much impact on the economy.

.. Democrats, confident there would never be a Republican director, characterized the near-absolute power as independence from political influence.

.. Ironically, the once-secretive CFPB has been more transparent since Mulvaney throttled its External Affairs Division, the propaganda machine Warren created in 2010 while leading the agency’s yearlong start-up process as a presidential adviser.

.. The division’s copious press releases have been replaced by more-informative leaks from the bureau’s overwhelmingly Democratic employees. Contrary to the stale narrative that liberals craft from the leaks, the acting director does not hate consumer protection; he just hates the CFPB’s structure, which he once described as “a joke . . . in a sad, sick way.” Warren’s obstinacy has only allowed him to validate the now-famous comment and delight in the bully’s comeuppance.

.. Mulvaney invited a Daily Caller reporter to the CFPB headquarters Warren had procured in 2011. Cordray’s $124 million renovation of the Brutalist eyesore came to symbolize the bureau’s elitist liberal entitlement. The reporter was escorted through a 2,660-square-foot athletic facility with two huge locker rooms, offices with electric height-adjustable workstations, a library with a sofa and lounge chairs but few books, a roof deck with spectacular views and motorized cantilevered umbrellas, and a courtyard with lavish fountains. The images recalled the familiar spectacle of triumphant soldiers touring a deposed dictator’s opulent palace.

.. But exposing his predecessor’s sins is only Mulvaney’s jab. His knockout punch is demonstrating that the CFPB’s structure allows its director to behave like the Republican stereotype.

.. Unlike other Trump nominees who renounced previous calls to eliminate the agencies they were tapped to lead, Mulvaney told reporters he was not shutting the CFPB down because the law did not permit him to do so. In his introduction to the agency’s five-year strategic plan he declared that “we have committed to fulfill the Bureau’s statutory responsibilities, but go no further.”

.. He requested no funding from the Fed for the first three months of 2018 and instead financed the CFPB’s operations by draining its stockpiled reserves, a likely prelude to agency layoffs.

.. Rather than defend his policies, Mulvaney reminded his critics: “I am the judge, I am the jury, and I am the executioner in some of these investigations, and that is completely wrong. . . . If you don’t like it, talk to the person who wrote the statute.”

.. Her attempt to shame Republicans is laughable — Democrats remained silent for five years while Cordray proved that Congress is powerless to rein in the director.
.. Mulvaney is not, as Warren writes, “turning the CFPB into a politicized rogue agency.” He is showing Democrats that it will continue to be one unless they help restructure it.

How the Government Could Fix Facebook

After years of allowing the world’s largest social network to police itself, Congress and federal regulators are discussing some promising reforms.

Typically, the FTC can only impose penalties if a company has violated a previous agreement with the agency.

That means Facebook may well face a fine for the Cambridge Analytica breach, assuming the FTC can show that the social network violated the 2011 settlement. In that settlement, the FTC charged Facebook with eight counts of unfair and deceptive behavior, including allowing outside apps to access data that they didn’t need—which is what Cambridge Analytica reportedly did years later. The settlement carried no financial penalties but included a clause stating that Facebook could face fines of $16,000 per violation per day.

..  “I predict that if the FTC concludes that Facebook violated the consent decree, there will be a heavy civil penalty that could well be in the amount of $1 billion or more,” he said.

.. “Facebook rejects any suggestion that it violated the consent decree,”

..  Daniel J. Weitzner, who served in the White House as the deputy chief technology officer at the time of the Facebook settlement, says that technology should be policed by something similar to the Department of Justice’s environmental-crimes unit. The unit has levied hundreds of millions of dollars in fines. Under previous administrations, it filed felony charges against people for such crimes as dumping raw sewage or killing a bald eagle. Some ended up sentenced to prison.

.. “We know how to do serious law enforcement when we think there’s a real priority, and we haven’t gotten there yet when it comes to privacy,” Weitzner said.

.. Facebook has said it will introduce a new regime of advertising transparency later this year, which will require political advertisers to submit a government-issued ID and to have an authentic mailing address. It said that political advertisers will also have to disclose which candidate or organization they represent and that all election ads will be displayed in a public archive.

.. While she was at the commission, she urged it to consider what it could do to make internet advertising contain as much disclosure as broadcast and print ads. “Do we want Vladimir Putin or drug cartels to be influencing American elections?” she presciently asked at a 2015 commission meeting.

..  Even if it does pass such a rule, the commission’s definition of election advertising is so narrow that many of the ads placed by the Russians may not have qualified for scrutiny. It’s limited to ads that mention a federal candidate and appear within 60 days prior to a general election or 30 days prior to a primary.

.. Last year, ProPublica found that Facebook was allowing advertisers to buy discriminatory ads, including ads targeting people who identified themselves as “Jew haters,” and ads for housing and employment that excluded audiences based on raceage, and other protected characteristics under civil-rights laws.

.. Facebook has claimed that it has immunity against liability for such discrimination under section 230 of the 1996 federal Communications Decency Act, which protects online publishers from liability for third-party content.

.. But sentiment is growing in Washington to interpret the law more narrowly.

.. Jonathan Zittrain, wrote an article rethinking his previous support for the law and declared it has become, in effect, “a subsidy” for the tech giants, who don’t bear the costs of ensuring the content they publish is accurate and fair.

.. “Any honest account must acknowledge the collateral damage it has permitted to be visited upon real people whose reputations, privacy, and dignity have been hurt in ways that defy redress,” Zittrain wrote.

Go ahead and #DeleteFacebook. But here’s the change we really need.

But what’s really scary is that it didn’t have to hack into anything to get it. Facebook was designed to collect all that info and handed it over without policing how it was being used.

.. But Facebook isn’t like other products you boycott.

.. We don’t buy products from Facebook — we are its product. We’ve given it our information for free. And in North America, we were each worth $26.76 to Facebook in the fourth quarter of 2017.

.. Facebook became America’s fifth most-valuable public company (worth about $490 billion as of Wednesday) by selling advertisers highly targeted access to us. It takes data about what we and our friends do and then combines that with data from other places to make all sorts of inferences about us.

.. Even if you don’t like Facebook, you might still need it to stay in touch with your mom, your second cousin or even your boss. They’d have to quit, also — and all their friends, too. Many people rely on Facebook to sign in to other websites, dating services and other apps.

.. There aren’t great alternatives, either. Several of the most popular other social apps in the United States — Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp — are also owned by Facebook. People peeved at Facebook’s data practices have tried making new services, but none took off.

.. Aside from a dramatic change of heart from founder Mark Zuckerberg, getting Facebook to reform what data it collects and how it uses it requires destabilizing its business. And that boils down to this: Making Facebook an unreliable or expensive way for marketers to reach us.

“The only way the boycott will be effective is if it creates enough reputational damage that regulation becomes a reasonable option or if advertisers leave en masse,”

.. . But turning that into laws is a long, slow process. Not even last year’s massive Equifax hack got lawmakers to act.

.. The world will soon get one kind of control from the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which requires more transparency from companies about the data they collect and how they use it.

Federal Trade Commission may also step in and fine Facebook. It happened to have an agreement in place with Facebook from 2011 that holds the social network accountable for incidents where its data gets shared without members’ explicit consent.

.. argument is that policing data is more than just a Facebook problem, so we need an independent agency (beyond the FTC) to deal with it.