SINGAPORE: Google has pointed to a Code of Practice under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) for not accepting political advertisements after the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) raised concerns over the rejection of its advertisements.
SDP said on Tuesday (Dec 3) that its chairman Paul Tambyah wrote in to Google’s chief executive Sundar Pichai to question the Internet giant’s policy after finding out that it was not able to purchase political advertisements.
In response to Mr Tambyah, Mr Ted Osius, Google’s vice-president of Asia Pacific Government Affairs and Public Policy wrote that the firm “will not accept advertising regulated by the Code of Practice for Transparency of Online Political Advertisements”.
The Internet giant also issued a statement to TODAY repeating what it said to the opposition politician and confirming its communications with him.
SDP has been ramping up its preparations for the next General Election which must be called by April 2021. It held a pre-election rally in October. It was also the first to announce the constituencies it intends to contest in.
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SDP shared the email exchange Prof Tambyah had with Google.
In his email, Prof Tambyah wrote that SDP has been highly dependent on social media and the Internet to get its message across to the people of Singapore.
“As such, we were very disturbed to hear from one of our partners that Google was introducing a new ‘political content policy’ for Singapore which would take effect from Dec 2, 2019,” he wrote.
The policy is “particularly alarming” as it apparently blocks all political advertisements which include anything that "influences or seeks to influence public opinion on a matter which in Singapore is a matter of public interest or public controversy with key examples being those related to race, religion”, he said.
“Alternative parties would have no ability to educate and inform the voters of Singapore in the run up to the elections if we are not able to use Google's advertising platforms in the first place,” he added.
In his email, Prof Tambyah also asked about Google’s change in heart as the Internet giant had invited SDP to its office in June this year to explain the company's services in election campaigns.
SDP said: “When we subsequently tried to follow up with Google on the matter, we were suddenly told that the office was reviewing its policy. Shortly thereafter, we received information that Google had banned political advertising in Singapore.”
Calling the Internet a "breath of fresh air for Singaporeans", Prof Tambyah said: "I do hope that Google LLC could step in to help eliminate this draconian policy to ensure that Singaporean voters are not deprived of information as they make their choices in the coming election."
In pointing to the POFMA Code of Practice, Mr Osius said: “This was not an easy decision to make as Google is committed to delivering useful and relevant election-related information to users around the world.”
He added that Google made similar decisions elsewhere, such as in Canada and Taiwan.
Each country has its own legislation when it comes to political advertising. Where applicable, we support political advertising consistent with our policies, Mr Osius said.
In response to Mr Osius’ reply, Prof Tambyah asked for a clarification of the legislation in Singapore that bans online political advertising and what sort of political advertising is inconsistent with Google's policies.
He also asked whether Google had seen a preview of the SDP's ads.
He urged Mr Osius to give a more transparent account of Google's position on the matter.
The Code of Practice sets out “obligations that prescribed digital advertising intermediaries and internet intermediaries have to comply with to enhance transparency of online political advertisements”.
It says these intermediaries must put in place “reasonable due diligence measures” to enhance disclosure of information concerning any online political advertisement that is communicated in Singapore.
These measures must include verifying the eligibility of advertisers, including obtaining proof to indicate that they have complied with the legal requirements under the Parliamentary Elections Act and Presidential Elections Act for political advertisements pertaining to elections in Singapore.
Measures include making available for viewing by the POFMA Office a record of all such online political advertisements, regardless of whether the advertisement has been removed by the person or organisation who requested or paid to place the advertisement.
The record, which needs to be machine-readable with a search interface, must include details like the amount that was paid for the advertisement, description of the advertisement’s intended target audience or actual viewers reached.
It must also be available for at least four years from the date the advertisement was first displayed.
The intermediaries must also develop techniques to identify and flag out online political advertisements targeted at end-users in Singapore that are undisclosed, miscategorised or placed by unverified persons or organisations.
They must also “promptly inform public authorities of suspected abuse of advertising tools by malicious actors”.