Discover more from Anchor Change with Katie Harbath
Will 2024 be the influencer election?
As campaigns look to woo online celebrities to get their message out, it raises tricky questions around disclosure and engagement with apps like TikTok
It’s another slow but busy week in Washington. Congress is still on recess, but the tech world keeps moving at warp speed between the leaked classified documents, Twitter stepping in it all over the place between labeling NPR as state-sponsored media and banning Substack links for a few days. Substack also rushed out its Twitter-esque clone Notes.
Speaking of Notes, I’ve been using it since Friday and love it. For now, I’ve moved most of what I would put on Twitter to this to see how it goes. Many of the people I used to engage with on Twitter are here now, and I like how it’s a way to engage with readers like you and other writers. Feel free to join the fun here.
What I want to talk about today, though, is another story that’s been making the rounds - Biden’s plan to utilize influencers for his campaign and the plan to potentially even give them their own briefing room in the White House.
At first blush, this might not seem like a big deal - but it’s a strategy that, while likely necessary and a smart thing to think about - is littered with land mines.
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Utilizing influencers for elections isn’t anything new. Endorsements from prominent figures, celebrities, and others have long been sought to help show a campaign's strength and spread its message.
With the rise of social media came a new kind of influencer. One who made a name for themselves on the internet. These folks aren’t celebrities in other areas such as music or acting who have a big following - though those are still important too - but everyday people who make their living creating content for the rest of us to consume.
In 2022, the influencer marketing industry was valued at $16.4 billion. Influencers are who the platforms chase because these platforms need good, entertaining content so that the users follow. This is partly due to how social media is changing. TikTok’s “for you” algorithm helped people find the content they might like without even following the account. Last year, Facebook announced it would show people more unconnected content. Twitter, Instagram, and others are doing the same.covered this well in one of his newsletters last month on how the monthly fees these platforms charge aren’t for amateurs - it’s for professionals.
Unsurprisingly, politicians and political parties are turning to influencers to help make the case to voters - especially young ones. Bloomberg did this in the 2020 election. During the midterms, it exploded even more - especially with Democrats. The Biden administration had Tik Tok influencers to the White House last Fall to mark the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. The DNC built a hub “for influencers, surrogates, and supporters to receive party-sponsored talking points, messaging, and a wide variety of digital content to post on their own social media feeds” that generated 83 million impressions between February and August of last year.
This is expected to continue in 2024 at an even larger scale. Even though it’s been reported before about the Biden team’s plan to utilize influencers, it’s taken on more attention with a new Axios story that the administration might give them their own briefing room at the White House. The White House also promoted Rob Flaherty - the director of the office of digital strategy - to be an assistant to the president. It’s the first time the director of ODS will have the same designation as the White House comms director and the press secretary.
Recently, Higher Ground Labs put out an excellent report looking at the political tech landscape. Some of their key takeaways from 2022 include:
Campaigns flock to streaming services as more begin to accept political ads
Influencer marketing achieves institutional adoption
Political text messages reach a tipping point
Campaigns are starting to purchase their tech earlier
Large M&A activity of key infrastructure raises questions among practitioners
Tech improves at the downballot level but campaigns still lack an affordable and effective stack
There are just a few problems with all of this, though.
First and foremost is the discussion about banning TikTok or not. Democrats are in a tricky spot because they want access to the younger user base that the app has but also recognize the challenges with the app. Republicans are swearing off the use of the app, potentially cutting them off from these voters.
Beyond that is the fact that technically TikTok has banned paid influencer campaigns for politics. They haven’t said anything about organic content beyond the fact that campaigns can’t post content raising money.
This also leads to questions about transparency. I remember at Facebook when the Bloomberg team started working with influencers, we scrambled to find a way for people to be able to see any influencer posts that had the paid partnership label.
But this requires the influencer to choose to use the label as it’s impossible for any platform to know if someone has been paid for their content if that transaction happened off-platform. Some influencers will want to talk about the election and not be paid. Some will be paid. How will voters trust to know the difference and that these content creators - and the campaigns - are being truthful about where money is exchanging hands? The FTC is trying to crack down on this to limited success.
Influencers aren’t going to be the only new tactic we see used in 2024. Artificial intelligence, new platforms, podcasts, newsletters, and so many other tools will be used by campaigns in new and innovative ways. And, yet again, political ad rules will lag behind these new technologies.
Politicians themselves will be conflicted when faced with the choice of utilizing these new approaches to reach a coveted voter demographic and their desire to regulate them. The party that walks this fine line the best could very well end up being the winner.
What I’m Reading
Rest of World: TikTok arrests in northern Nigeria
The Washington Post: Meta won’t say if politicians can post AI-made fakes without warnings
🚨🚨 NEW 🚨🚨
June 5 - 9, 2023: WWDC - Apple developer event
August 19 - 22, 2024 - Democratic Convention, Chicago
Topics to keep an eye on:
Facebook 2020 election research
April 19 - 23, 2023: International Journalism Festival
April 28 - 29, 2023: Knight First Amendment Institute - Optimizing for What? Algorithmic Amplification and Society
April 30, 2023 - Benin Election
April 30, 2023 - Paraguay Election
April 2023 - Andorra Election
April 2023 - Finland Election
April 2023 - Montenegro Election
May 2 - 4, 2023: Microsoft 365 Conference
May 7, 2023 - Thailand Election
May 10 - 12, 2023 - All Things in Moderation Conference
By May 12 - Meta response on spirit of the policy decisions
May 14, 2023: Thailand election
May 15-16: Copenhagen Democracy Summit
May 24-26, 2023 - Nobel Prize Summit: Truth, Trust and Hope
June 5-9: RightsCon
June 5 - 9: WWDC - Apple developer event
June 5, 2023 - The European Commission, European parliament and EU member states are due to agree a final definition for political advertising
June 24 - June 30: Aspen Ideas Festival
June 24, 2023 - Sierra Leone Election
June 25, 2023 - Guatemala Election
June 25, 2023 -Turkey Election
TBD June: DFR Lab 360/OS
July 11-13, 2023 - TrustCon
July 2023 - Cambodia Election
July 2023 - Timor-Leste Election
July 2023 - Zimbabwe Election
August 6, 2023 - Greece Election
August 2023 - Eswatini Election
August 2023 - First GOP Presidential Primary Debate
Mid-September: All Tech Is Human - Responsible Tech Summit NYC
September 27-29, 2023: Athens Democracy Forum
TBD September: Atlantic Festival
TBD September: Unfinished Live
September 2023 - Mauritania Election
September 28-29, 2023 - Trust & Safety Research Conference
October 8 - 12: Internet Governance Forum - Japan
October 10, 2023 - Liberia Election
October 12, 2023 - Pakistan Election
October 14, 2023 - New Zealand Election
October 22, 2023 - Switzerland Election
October 2023 - Argentina Election
October 2023 - Luxembourg Election
October 2023 - Oman Election
November 12, 2023 - Poland Election
November 20, 2023 - Marshall Islands Election
November 29, 2023 - Ukraine Election
November 2023 - Bhutan Election
November 2023 - Gabon Election
November 2023 - Rwanda Election
December 10, 2023 - Spain Election
December 2023 - Bangladesh Election
December 2023 - Democratic Republic of the Congo Election
December 2023 - Togo Election
TBD - Belarus Election
TBD - Cuba Election
TBD - Equatorial Guinea Election
TBD - Guinea Election
TBD - Madagascar Election
TBD - Maldives Election
TBD - Myanmar Election
TBD - Singapore Election
TBD - South Sudan Election - (Unlikely to happen)
TBD - Turkmenistan Election
TBD - Tuvalu
TBD - Haiti
July 15 - 18, 2024 - Republican National Convention
August 19 - 22, 2024 - Democratic Convention, Chicago