Staff Reporters
Dec 5, 2019

Google to stop political ads from running in Singapore

Singapore's opposition political group said the "shocking" move would deprive voters of information ahead of the looming election.

Google's Singapore office in Mapletree Business City
Google's Singapore office in Mapletree Business City

Google will not allow political advertising to run across its platforms in Singapore since this would require it to submit records to authorities under the country's new 'fake news' law.

Google’s APAC VP of government affairs and public policy Ted Osius has said that while the search giant usually supports political advertising that abides by its policies, in Singapore it “will not accept advertising regulated by the Code of Practice for Transparency of Online Political Advertisements”, in a statement sent to Campaign.

This code of practice is part of a controversial ‘fake news’ law—called Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA)—introduced in Singapore in October. Under the law, internet intermediaries are required to maintain detailed records of political adverts and their sponsors and make those records available to authorities. The code applies to “all advertisement or paid content that can reasonably be regarded as being directed towards a political end”.

"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," Osius added.

He pointed out that the tech business has made similar decisions elsewhere, such as in Canada and Taiwan.

The senior policy VP said: "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."

The move comes ahead of Singapore's general election, which is expected to be called next year.

The story was first reported from an email correspondence between Osius and opposition party the Singapore Democratic Party.

SDP said the “shocking policy” would deprive voters of information ahead of that ballot.

The party's chairman Paul Tambyah said in the email correspondence: “In an election with the media totally dominated by the state, 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."

Facebook announced in September it would enforce tighter controls on ads about social issues, elections and politics in Singapore—which includes a requirement for advertisers to get authorised in advance and place ‘Paid for by’ disclaimers on their ads—as government controls tightened.

The social-media platform was last week forced to place a disclaimer on the post of a user which the Singapore government had deemed 'fake news' under its POFMA bill.

Google updated its global political advertising policy a few weeks ago, which includes placing stricter limits on how election ads can target political demographics, amid growing concern over the role of online media in influencing political votes. 

It was the last major tech platform to clarify its stance, following Facebook and Twitter's opposing decisions. Facebook allows any kind of political ads on its platforms, even those which are false, and Twitter has begun enforcing its blanket ban on all political ads, as well as placing restrictions on "cause-based" advertising.

This story was updated at 3pm December 5.

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