By Walé Azeez, CNN Business
Google will ban political advertising on its platforms in the Philippines as the country prepares for elections in May.
The company said on Wednesday that it will stop ads running “during an election campaign period or a silence period” in the run-up to the vote. Google considers election ads as any paid posts that “either promote or oppose a political party or the candidacy of a person or party” running for public office.
The ban will run from February 8 up to election day on May 9, when President Rodrigo Duterte will run for election to the senate as he completes his six-year term. He is barred from seeking a second term under the constitution.
The ability of Google, Facebook and Twitter to precisely target and elicit reactions from users according to their political beliefs has been called a threat to democracy by business leaders, government officials and researchers.
After US election day last November, Google temporarily barred advertisers from running ads related to the polls, extending the ban after the January 6 US Capitol riots until February this year.
Maria Ressa, the CEO of Filipino news outlet Rappler and Nobel Peace Prize winner, warned recently that the platforms delivering news in the Philippines, a country where journalists have been targeted for criticizing the Duterte regime, “are biased against facts” and threaten the integrity of May’s election.
“There’s a lot at stake for the Philippines [in 2022] because if we don’t get fact-based, evidence-based reasoning, a shared reality, then we’re not going to come out of this. We’re going to splinter even further,” she told CNN Business.
According to a report on global online activity from 2018, people in the Philippines spent an average of four hours and 12 minutes on social media platforms every day, while the global average was two hours and 16 minutes.
In a country where the internet is heavily used but is slow and unreliable, the accessibility of social media in the Philippines makes it “a prime platform for swaying public opinion,” according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“Consequently, political actors are willing to do anything to capture the public’s attention,” it said in analysis of the upcoming elections published last month.
CNN Business has contacted Facebook for details of its political ads policy ahead of the Philippines elections. During the last US election, the company only banned ads that tried to declare a winning candidate before official results were released.
Facebook faced harsh criticism when it allowed politicians to run false ads on its platform — including on behalf of former president Donald Trump’s re-election bid — throughout the campaign period, courting scorn from some of Facebook’s own employees as well as wider outrage alongside calls to change its policy.
Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced a worldwide ban on political ads on the platform two years ago.
— CNN’s Rishi Iyengar, Brian Fung and Donie O’Sullivan contributed to this story.
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