POFMA Code of Practice for online political ads will help citizens make informed choices: Iswaran

POFMA Code of Practice for online political ads will help citizens make informed choices: Iswaran

Iswaran in Parliament 060120
Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran speaks in Parliament on Jan 6, 2020.

SINGAPORE: The Code of Practice for Transparency of Online Political Advertisements will make such ads more transparent, hold advertisers accountable and allow citizens to make informed choices, said Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran on Monday (Jan 6).

Mr Iswaran was speaking in Parliament in response to Workers' Party Member of Parliament Sylvia Lim, who had asked for the rationale behind the obligations placed on digital advertising and Internet intermediaries under the Code. 

Introduced as part of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) in October last year, the Code requires prescribed intermediaries to ensure that all online political ads carry disclosure notices on the person or organisation who has placed or paid for the ad.

Other requirements on intermediaries include maintaining a database for the ads and providing a channel for the public to report undisclosed ads.

“Today, digital advertising tools are used pervasively on social media platforms. Moreover, digital advertisements can be micro-targeted at specific groups using a variety of indicators,” said Mr Iswaran.

“We believe that Singaporeans should know, and indeed that our citizens would want to know, who is behind the political advertisements that they see online.”

The Code was drafted after consulting intermediaries and referencing measures from other countries, Mr Iswaran added. 

These include the European Union Code of Practice on Disinformation and transparency measures on political ads in France and Canada.

The obligations of the Code came under the spotlight after Google declined to run political ads from the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) in December.

READ: Google points to POFMA Code of Practice for not accepting political ads online after SDP raised concerns

SDP chairman Paul Tambyah had written to Google, who replied that it would not "accept advertising regulated by the Code of Practice for Transparency of Online Political Advertisement”.

In a supplementary question, Ms Lim questioned the need for the POFMA Office to have access to the database, as it includes information such as the amount paid for the advertisement, a description of the advertisement's intent and the target audience and viewers reached.

While intermediaries are required to maintain this information, “it doesn’t mean that the POFMA Office has to have access to this information”, said Mr Iswaran.

“The information must be available so that, in the event action is required, the relevant information is available.”

But Ms Lim argued that the Code would be “a good way to discover the election strategy of the political opponents of the ruling party”, as the Code does not prevent the POFMA Office from looking at ads without falsehoods or alleged falsehoods.

Mr Iswaran replied: “Google is not taking (political advertisements), Twitter is not taking them – and there’s a global policy not to take political ads – and Facebook is making full disclosure. More than the disclosure that we require through this Code.”

“I’m not sure how this affords us greater intelligence … I think the member might be barking up the wrong tree on this,” he said.

Source: CNA/cc(hs)

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