It is a testament to how obscenely wealthy Mike Bloomberg is that he can find so many different ways to waste money on social media. There are the weird tweets about meatballs. There is the campaign to pay meme thieves to post lame endorsements on Instagram. And there’s the campaign of “digital field organizers” who get $2,500 bucks a month to spam their phone contacts and social media followers.
That last one made headlines last week after it raised a myriad of questions about legality, transparency, and disclosure. Paying people who are technically employees to talk up a candidate online is different from buying an ad, and precisely who gets paid dictates if it even counts as a political ad on a platform like Facebook (in short: paying an account holder to post is not an ad, paying a platform to boost its visibility is). A Bloomberg spokesperson told the Washington Post, “We ask that all of our deputy field organizers identify themselves as working on behalf of the Mike Bloomberg 2020 campaign on their social media accounts.” (Some might argue that, in the current political climate, asking is different than requiring, and any norm that’s not a hard-coded rule is effectively worthless.)
The effectiveness of these social media campaigns is nebulous, since they exist somewhere between a brand campaign (getting a guy’s name out there) and a direct-action campaign (getting people to vote for the guy). Even knowing this, however, the Bloomberg digital program is remarkable in its uselessness. Don’t take my word for it; the organizers will tell you themselves.
From the Los Angeles Times:
A look inside the strategy … shows that many have been using accounts created within the last month for their Twitter posts. At least two had openly posted in support of other candidates. And unlike the high-profile influencers the campaign recently hired to create viral memes, the vast majority of these organizers have modest personal audiences. On Twitter, many have fewer than 20 followers.
Additionally, the employees were so unenthusiastic about the work that some just copy-and-pasted the materials that the campaign had supplied, garnering almost no engagement from their assumed (and tiny) audience. “Some organizers were so robotic in their tweeting,” the Times found, “that Twitter suspended their accounts Friday evening after The Times inquired about whether their behavior complied with the platform’s rules on spam and manipulation.” At least 70 accounts disappeared.
One worker instantly followed up a pro-Bloomberg text message he was required to send with, “Please disregard, vote Bernie or Warren.”
It is the most brazen illustration of Bloomberg’s strategy of spending endlessly on programs that cash-strapped campaigns would never be able to afford. To put it in perspective, the $1.25 million reportedly earmarked for this particular initiative is equivalent to Pete Buttigieg’s entire TV ad spend in Nevada (and only a quarter million less than Sanders’s and Warren’s).
For these incredible efforts, the organizers are paid $2,500 a month — a princely sum to do nothing but post random digital fluff that nobody is going to see. A Bloomberg campaign aide told the L.A. Times, “The only thing that was taken into account was whether applicants had social media accounts and knew how to use them.” Clearly.