New online ad regulations for SG political candidates ahead of elections

The Elections Department (ELD) of Singapore, a department under the Prime Minister's Office, has unveiled new regulations for paid internet election advertising (IEA) during the election period. The new regulations aim to increase transparency and accountability, and is aimed at better safeguarding the integrity of the electoral process by strengthening disclosure requirements behind the use of paid online election ads, said ELD. The ELD is responsible for preparing and managing the conduct of presidential and parliamentary elections in Singapore.

Under the new regulations, electoral candidates need to declare details of paid online election ads, and clearly state their expenses in the election expenses returns form, along with the responsible party paying for such ads. Election candidates need to declare all platforms and publishers that they are using for both paid and unpaid online election ads within 12 hours of the start of the campaign period. These declarations will be put up on the ELD website for public access. Candidates will also have to outline the time period of when the ads will appear. Moreover, they are required to declare if money was received for the placement of the paid online ads. 

Additionally, paid online election ads must now clearly state that the advertising is paid for by the candidate, political party or an authorised third party campaigner by placing labels such as “sponsored by” or “paid for by” on the ad. If the social media page has not been declared by candidate for election advertising, or if the individual who paid for the ad has not been authorised by the candidate to publish paid IEA, the ad will not be allowed. 

The new regulations are in response to trends of misinformation during election that ELD has seen overseas, according to Channel NewsAsia (CNA). CNA reported that ELD cited elections in the UK and Indonesia last year, where false information was widely spread online, some of which were spread through the use of paid advertising on social media. Paid advertisement on the internet can come in the form of advertisement on a social media platform, or a blog advertorial within a website.

Meanwhile under other forms of advertising, candidates will now be required to additionally include the symbol allotted to them on their election poster/banner, so that it is clear to voters who the election poster/banner is for. Under current regulations, candidates are required to include the names of the printer, publisher and person at whose direction or for whom the election poster/banner is published, and affix the official stamp issued to them.

Political parties may also lodge on their candidates’ behalf, the same election posters and banners for display across different constituencies. With this change, individual candidates standing for a political party will not need to separately lodge the same election poster/banner with the Returning Officer. Additionally, a list of items that are generally of small value and small in size, which are exempted from the definition of “election advertising”, has also been updated to include umbrellas and portable objects or articles of value less than SG$10 and of volume less than 10cm by 10cm by 10cm. For an item to be exempted from this requirement, it must not contain or display content that is false or negative towards other candidates.

The Singapore general election is held once every five years. Although the date is not fixed for this year, the election could be held as early as July, according to The Straits Times. According to a press release by ELD, the election must be held by April 2021. In view of the COVID-19 situation, ELD has also rolled out measures to maintain safe distancing and reduce overcrowding during polling. Some of the measures include setting up more polling stations, allocating a two-hour voting time-band for voters, as well as providing digital service for voters to check the queue situation at their assigned polling station. 

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