Electoral Law vs FaceBook

Nelson Moura’s recent article “Killing The Messenger” highlighted interesting insights on Legislative Assembly (AL) elections and campaigning regulations. Last week, the Electoral Committee announced that “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 article also reported that FaceBook could be fined for allowing candidates to use paid ads on its platform.
In December 2016, Macau’s electoral laws were revised and the new regulations included fines for propaganda found outside of the approved campaign locations. Although extensive, the revisions are very general. Also, the approved campaign propaganda areas are very limited. “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.
I certainly don’t want to be inundated with rampant campaign signage, but I do think candidates should be given access to all voters in Macau. To keep advertising inside is very strict. This brings me to FaceBook.
FaceBook has an enormous amount of data available from its users, which it allows advertisers to utilize. Building an ad campaign on the platform includes the ability to target specific demographics of users along with interests and beliefs. This is a veritable gold mine for politicians who want to reach voters that agree with their views.
Macau Electoral Law does, however, seem to give all candidates equal footing - or at least that is the goal. Strict campaign regulations level the playing field from a financial point of view.
Some candidates in Macau used FaceBook and sponsored content and got caught. When the Electoral Committee received complaints, they investigated causing the recent demand to remove all paid advertising. The interesting thing, however, about this demand is that the Macau government may attempt to fine FaceBook and not the candidate that placed the ads. In my opinion, it seems odd to fine a company and not the offending candidate. Is it even realistic that FaceBook would even pay a fine of this nature? The platform has been under pressure over the past quarter to remove “fake news” and extremist content from their platform and they have been making strides.
With the election days away, and with our city still healing from Typhoon Hato, this election could be very interesting. In the meantime, let’s see how FaceBook responds to the threat of impending fines from the Macau paid advertising and watch the election unfold.