Opposition political party in Singapore questions Google’s decision to disallow political advertising

Google has decided to disallow political advertising in Singapore, to the chagrin of opposition political group the Singapore Democratic Party. It is a decision that has been particularly surprising since the party claimed to have visited Google’s offices on invitation by the company as recently as June this year, to be briefed on its services.

Making his party’s correspondence with Google public, SDP chairman Paul Tambyah said: “Google’s actions are even more incomprehensible considering that it was your Singapore office that invited the SDP to its office to explain your company’s services.

“It was shortly thereafter that we received information that Google had banned political advertisements in Singapore. What happened in between?”

For its part, Google claimed it was abiding by the Singapore Government’s Prevention of Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) which came into effect this October.

Among other things, the laws proposed hefty fines for social networks and sites that did not comply with takedown notices or publish clarifications against posts that were deemed false by the government. The POFMA office has already ordered disclaimers to appear against a couple of posts on Facebook.

Asked for a statement by Mumbrella on its decision to disallow political advertising, Google sent across its response to the SDP from Google Asia-Pacific VP of government affairs and public policy Ted Osius. The statement said: “Each country has its own legislation when it comes to political advertising. Where applicable, we support political advertising consistent with our policies.

“However, in the case of Singapore, we decided we will not accept advertising regulated by the Code of Practice for Transparency of Online Political Advertisements. 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. We had made similar decisions elsewhere, such as in Canada and Taiwan.

“We will continue to look into how we can support democratic processes around the world, including in Singapore. We have been focused on supporting Singaporeans through media literacy and connecting people to useful information.”

Shortly after Twitter made its decision to back out of political advertising public, via a series of tweets from its CEO Jack Dorsey on October 31, Google  had  outlined a change to its political advertising policies in a post by Google Ads vice president of product management Scott Spencer on November 20.

In the post, Spencer had said: “Given recent concerns and debates about political advertising, and the importance of shared trust in the democratic process, we want to improve voters’ confidence in the political ads they may see on our ad platforms.

“So we’re making a few changes to how we handle political ads on our platforms globally. Regardless of the cost or impact to spending on our platforms, we believe these changes will help promote confidence in digital political advertising and trust in electoral processes worldwide.”

Spencer said that Google will be limiting election ads audience targeting to general categories: such as age, gender, and general location. While Spencer reiterated that Google never offered granular micro-targeting, the new policy indicated a switch from its previous standards for countries like the US. Spencer said: “We have offered basic political targeting capabilities to verified advertisers, such as serving ads based on public voter records and general political affiliations (left-leaning, right-leaning, and independent).”

Google specifically changed its policies on political advertising for Singapore in November.

While disallowing political advertising, Google outlined a definition of such advertising, in effect forbidding ads that “promote the interests of a political party or other group organised in Singapore for political objects” who “seek to influence the outcome of elections.” The sort of elections mentioned included the office of the {resident, Members of Parliament or a referendum.

It also classed as political ads any advertising that that could influence or intended influencing opinion in Singapore on issues of public interest or controversy such as race and religion.


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