Elections Dept reins in breach of rules

Elections Dept reins in breach of rules
A member of the public walks past the Elections Department. TODAY file photo

Elections Dept reins in breach of rules

Candidates, parties publish election advertising on social media in breach of election rules but these were soon fixed

SINGAPORE — The mandated campaign silence period was briefly interrupted in the wee hours of this morning (Sept 10) by political parties and candidates publishing posts on their social media accounts.

The Elections Department (ELD) said the candidates and parties — People’s Action Party (PAP), People’s Power Party (PPP) and Reform Party (RP) — published election advertising postings on Twitter and Facebook “in the early hours of Cooling-off Day”.

Upon noticing these postings, the ELD’s assistant returning officer had reminded these candidates and parties of the rules of Cooling-off Day. “These have since been rectified,” it said.

On Cooling-off Day, campaigning is not allowed and election advertising must not be published or displayed. Election advertisements that were put up on the Internet must be left unchanged once the campaign silence period kicks in at midnight. Programmatic advertising — the use of technology to automatically deliver digital ads online and on social media platforms — should not be conducted on both Cooling-off Day and Polling Day.

But screengrabs of a tweet on Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan’s account linking to a Facebook post about an election walkabout — with a time stamp indicating it was published today — had some netizens questioning if electoral rules had been broken.

A spokesperson for Dr Bala­krishnan — who is leading the PAP team defending their seats in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC — said the minister has explained to the ELD that the Facebook post in question, which was first published on Sept 4, had been repeatedly published automatically.

“Despite multiple attempts by the page administrators to stop this, the problem recurred at 1.52am on Sept 10, 2015. We have contacted Facebook headquarters to conduct an investigation into the source of this bug,” Dr Balakrishnan told the ELD.

As his Facebook and Twitter accounts are linked, an associated tweet was also generated today. “We have also requested that the page be locked down to prevent any further postings,” Dr Balakrishnan said. Both the Facebook post and tweet have been removed from the respective social media platforms.

The police confirmed that reports were lodged on the matter, and they are looking into it.

(Sept 11 update: Facebook has since confirmed to Dr Balakrishnan that a bug in its technical system led to the re-current auto-posting on his Facebook page. “We are sorry for the inconvenience caused,” said Facebook.)

When contacted, PPP secretary-general Goh Meng Seng said the party’s Facebook administrator took longer than expected to upload the speeches made at the party’s rally yesterday, resulting in the mistake. “The oversight was rectified immediately by deleting the postings first thing in the morning,” said Mr Goh, adding that there had been no additional messages of political advertising uploaded on the party’s Facebook page.

The RP did not respond to queries as of press time.

In 2011, the PAP’s Tin Pei Ling and former National Solidarity Party member Nicole Seah were investigated by the police over messages that were posted on their Facebook accounts during Cooling-off Day for the General Election that year.

In the case of Ms Tin, the post was made by a friend who did it without her knowledge. In the case of Ms Seah, it was found that the message was by an NSP volunteer who had intended to post the message before the start of Cooling-off Day. ADDITIONAL REPORTING TAN WEIZHEN

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