General Election was easily one of the most exciting events in Singapore this year. It broke us out of the monotony of being grounded at home during Circuit Breaker and Phase I.
Besides, it blessed us with countless quality memes such as this:
Well, be happy that all you shared were memes.
Today, the Elections Department (ELD) filed a police report against New Naratif for publishing paid ads during the General Election 2020.
Wait, is that a political party or?
The Law Behind Paid Internet Election Advertisements
To better understand the incident, we must first decipher the law behind paid Internet election advertisements, which constitute election advertising.
In a July statement, ELD emphasized the need for election advertising to be authorized by a candidate or an election agent from the start of the campaign period.
Election advertising is categorized under election activities, which are activities done to promote or procure electoral success at any election for “identifiable” political parties, candidates or groups of candidates.
“Under the PEA, the conduct of any election activity requires prior written authority signed by a candidate or his election agent,” it said.
“This ensures accountability, and prevents paid advertisements from being used as a conduit for foreign interference in the elections process, or for political parties and candidates to bypass the election expense limits.”
Conducting unauthorized election activities from the start of the campaign period is thus considered an offence under the PEA.
Conviction could result in a fine of up to S$2,000, up to 12 months’ jail, or both.
Advertising Incident Three Months Earlier
Now, onto the matter at hand.
New Naratif is a journalistic platform advocating democracy, freedom of information, and freedom of expression in Southeast Asia.
Prior to GE2020, they published paid advertisements that were “not authorised by any candidate or election agent to conduct election activity”, said ELD.
The “programmatic paid advertisement” continued to run during the campaign period, which started after Nomination Day (Jun 30).
New Naratif’s actions amounted to election advertising, with the publisher “deemed to be conducting election activity as defined in the Parliamentary Elections Act”.
Given the fact “neither New Naratif nor its representatives or agents were authorised by any candidate or election agent in this General Election to conduct election activity”, the publisher committed an offence of illegal conduct of election activity.
And of course, these ads are related to the election and not about the latest toothpaste in the market.
Ads Were Eventually Taken Down
As the assistant returning officer of this GE, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) took actions against the ads.
They issued a notice to Facebook “to remove unauthorised paid Internet election advertising” on Jul 3.
New Naratif publicized the takedown decision and proceeded with more ads on 4 Jul.
Like an illegal ad whack-a-mole, IMDA responded with more takedown notices on Jul 7 and 8. Altogether, five ads were removed.
However, it appears ELD felt that it wasn’t enough to merely take down the ads. Hence, the police report.
In conclusion, stick to memes and you’ll be safe.
Oh, don’t pay to advertise those memes too.
Why So Strict?
We’d love to explain everything, but guess it’d be easier to explain with just one image:
And the Russians paid for the ads #freepublicity