Facebook rolls out measures aimed at thwarting foreign electoral interference in Singapore

Facebook rolls out measures aimed at thwarting foreign electoral interference in Singapore

Voters at Bukit Batok Sec School polling station for the Bukit Batok by-election on May 7, 2016.
Voters at a polling station in Singapore. (File photo: Ray Yeh)

SINGAPORE: Social media giant Facebook on Thursday (Sep 26) introduced a slew of measures aimed at bringing greater transparency to socio-political advertising on its platforms here in Singapore.

These initiatives come less than a month after the Elections Department announced that a committee had been convened to review the current electoral boundaries, marking the first formal step towards a General Election here.

READ: Elections Department announces formation of electoral boundaries committee

One such measure is that any person or organisation who wishes to run ads on either Facebook or Instagram relating to social issues, elections or politics in Singapore will need to confirm their identity – using documents such as a passport or identity card – as well as their location, to prove they are based in the country.

They must also disclose who is responsible for the advertisement, and provide their name, their organisation or a Facebook page they run in the “Paid for By” disclaimer of such advertisements.

Contact information such as a phone number, email address or website must also be provided in the disclaimer. 

Facebook Singapore political advertising restrictions
Socio-political advertising on Facebook and Singapore will now require disclaimers on who paid for the ad. (Image: Facebook)

“These requirements hold advertisers accountable for the ads they run on Facebook and Instagram,” said Facebook’s public policy director for global elections Katie Harbath. 

This authorisation process is also required for those who want to run advertisements relating to some social issues, such as civil and social rights, immigration, crime as well as political values and governance. 

These particular issues were decided based on external consultation, as well as Facebook’s internal research which found these subjects were matters frequently debated by Singaporeans on Facebook, noted Ms Harbath.

Such authorisations could take anywhere from two days to a few weeks.

READ: Electoral boundaries committee formed: What it means for Singapore’s GE

First announced in June this year, such measures are already required in 40 markets where Facebook operates, including the United States, India and the European Union.

Foreign interference campaigns on social media had previously been shown to have influenced numerous elections worldwide, including the 2016 US election and the Brexit vote in Britain.

Thursday's announcement comes about seven months after Facebook announced it was setting up an operations centre for election integrity in Singapore, in anticipation of key elections across the region.  

Earlier this year, the company announced temporary restrictions on foreign political advertising in Thailand and Indonesia, ahead of polling in both countries. 

AD LIBRARY

These socio-political advertisements will be placed in an “Ad Library” for seven years, where members of the public can also see how much was spent on the advertisement, as well as how many people viewed it.

They will also be able to see the demographics of who viewed it, including information such as age ranges, gender and locations.

The API (application programming interface) for the library will also be made available, “for researchers, academics, journalists and the public to study political advertising”.

“In addition, we will introduce the Ad Library Report within the next few weeks, which provide people who aren’t as technical with similar information about ads related to social issues, elections or politics related to social issues, elections or politics,” said Ms Harbath.

On Wednesday at the Foreign Interference Tactics and Countermeasures conference, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said that laws were needed to deal with possible foreign interference campaigns.

He has said that while the Government would like to work with technology companies, they cannot be relied on to self-regulate in the face of such hostile information campaigns, noting their business interests are often at odds with what needs to be done in the interest of broader society.

READ: Shanmugam warns of foreign interference in Singapore; questions agenda, funding of The Online Citizen

Speaking to reporters in Singapore via video conference from Washington, DC, where she is based, Ms Harbath said Facebook is just “one small part of the ecosystem” when it comes to elections.

She added Facebook wants to work with governments as well as civil society and other tech companies “to protect the integrity of elections on the Internet as a whole”, noting the social media giant has 40 teams and 500 employees worldwide looking at the issue.

When asked how Facebook would tackle misinformation from accounts that do not explicitly identify themselves as promoting socio-political content, she noted the initiatives announced on Thursday were just one of its many efforts in the area.

“There's also a lot of additional work that we do in terms of taking down fake accounts, reducing false news, and disrupting bad actors that all go into what we do for protecting the integrity of elections. What we're announcing today is just one pillar of our work in that area.”

Source: CNA/nc

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