Killing the messenger

Social media platform Facebook could be fined by the Electoral Committee for allowing electoral candidates to have paid ads on the platform
Any candidate running in this year’s Legislative Assembly (AL) elections will have to remove any paid ads or paid content on social media platform Facebook, the Electoral Committee (CAEL) announced yesterday. The CAEL President confirmed that some four or five complaints had been filed about electoral lists using paid ads on Facebook, while admitting the possibility that more than 20 candidate groups could have been using the same method. “We will also take the initiative to investigate ourselves but we need to have evidence and information to start an investigation,” said Mr. Tong. However, while the Electoral Law does not specifically mention consequences or fines for the candidates, it states that any media or advertising company participating in political propaganda after the executive order setting the date of the election could incur a fine of between MOP5,000 (US$620) and MOP50,000. Consequently, the American social media company could face the possibility of being fined for allowing candidates to use paid ads on its platform. “The company has to be fined and we will notify the electoral list that it can’t conduct propaganda through commercial means. The company also has to remove the contents,” CAEL President Tong Hio Fong said yesterday. In the event that the entity or person responsible for the medium does not comply with the removal of content considered to be electoral propaganda it can also be accused of qualified disobedience according to the law. “We talked to the company and they will co-operate with us (…) We need to first assess if the cases were made with intent or due to negligence,” Tong stated. Raining infractions CAEL also announced that as of September 4 some 64 complaints about infractions had been received by the Committee, with 20 forwarded to police authorities. “I would like to remind candidates that they have to follow the Electoral Law; irregularities have been registered and we’re in contact with police authorities to enforce the law,” Mr. Tong said. According to the Committee, propaganda materials have been placed outside the 23 designated spaces for this purpose. “Propaganda materials can be fixed in campaign groups’ headquarters or inside buildings or stores but they can’t be seen by people walking in the street,” the Committee declared. CAEL also stated it was investigating a case in which campaign posters from a candidate group had been destroyed or ripped, with authorities suspecting the poster may have been damaged by recent heavy rains. Removing, destroying, stealing or covering electoral campaign materials can incur a prison sentence of up to three years, according to the Electoral Law. The Committee added that of the voting stations damaged by the recent typhoons, only one was still under repair but that it would be operational for the September 17 election day.