Outdoor political ad ban does not extend to social media, police clarify

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Tallinn mayoral candidate Rainer Vakra's Facebook page.
Tallinn mayoral candidate Rainer Vakra's Facebook page. Source: (screenshot)

Following a statement to the contrary originally reported on ETV's "Aktuaalne kaamera" on Wednesday, police in Estonia have clarified that a law prohibiting outdoor political advertising during the active campaigning period ahead of elections does not extend to social media.

According to the police's final interpretation, the month-long ban preceding elections does not affect candidate photos and slogans posted on social media.

The confusion was caused by the fact that a senior law enforcement officer who appeared on ETV news broadcast "Aktuaalne kaamera" on Wednesday evening expressed a different view.

Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) senior law enforcement officer Kert Kotkas explained on Wednesday that a politician may promote their candidacy on social media, but this must be directed at a smaller audience, e.g. only their own Facebook friends.

According to the senior officer, if a post featuring a candidate's photo, name, candidate number and/or slogans is set to public, it counts as political outdoor advertising.

On Thursday, however, PPA Prevention and Criminal Procedure Unit director Toomas Loho said that while Facebook and other social media channels are figuratively public spaces, the ban on outdoor political ads during the period leading up to elections does not extend to social media and politicians may continue to post campaign ads on these channels.

The PPA's communications director confirmed to ERR that this position on the matter is now final.

According to Loho, the restriction on outdoor political avertising is worded very broadly in the law, and in practice has developed on the basis of individual cases. Since 2005, when the relevant amendment first entered into force, the importance and role of social media has grown exponentially.

"There is insufficient case law for the police to draw upon," Loho said. "The PPA sees the need for this regulation to be specified or changed so that everyone has a uniform understanding of the restrictions. The PPA has repeatedly proposed changing the law related to elections."

The police official added that, in the interests of legal clarity, the PPA treats all media channels on the internet equally. "In a public space, the rules of best practice must be obeyed, whether in the cyber world or the traditional public space," he noted.

Free Party: Law should be changed anyway

The PPA are not the only ones who believe that the law needs to be changed.

"If social media is attacked now as well, then we are just delving into total absurdity with this situation," said Free Party chairman Artur Talvik. "It is important to consider all means for reducing the role of money in elections and adding substance to election campaigns."

The Free Party parliamentary group believes that political outdoor advertising should be allowed up until Election Day, but that the size of the ads and the amount spent on campaigning should be limited. They will be submitting a bill on the matter to the Riigikogu on Thursday.

According to the Local Government Council Election Act, political outdoor advertising is prohibited as of the final day of candidate registration, which marks the beginning of the active campaigning period.

This year, the active campaigning period began on Sept. 11. Early and online voting in this fall's local government council elections will begin on Oct. 5; Election Day is on Oct. 15.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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