Google and Facebook ban ads linked to Ireland's abortion referendum

Glen Norman
May 11, 2018

The vote takes place on May 25.

"Following our update around election integrity efforts globally, we have made a decision to pause all ads related to the Irish referendum on the Eighth Amendment", a Google spokesperson announced.

Facebook has blocked foreign adverts that target voters in Ireland's upcoming abortion referendum. Facebook has plenty of motive to try and prevent foreign actors from buying politically charged ads.

It is unclear if Google will unpause the ads after the vote. In the case of Ireland's referendum, Facebook has also launched a "view ads" feature, which allows users in the country to see all of the ads an advertiser is running on the platform at the same time to help make an educated decision about the information they are receiving.

Given how close the vote now is both tech giants have been accused of acting too late to prevent foreign interests from using their platforms to exploit a loophole in Irish law to get around a ban on foreign donations to political campaigns by pouring money into unregulated digital advertising instead.

The high-profile nature of the contest - in addition to the heavy presence of USA technology companies in Dublin - has led large internet companies to closely monitor how their platforms are being used during the referendum run-up, with Facebook rushing to roll-out its news transparency platform for political adverts.

Gavin Sheridan, CEO of Vizlegal, said social media companies were in reactive mode and it should not be their job to police advertising.

Meanwhile, the leader of Renua Ireland, the only political party to campaign for the retention of the Eighth Amendment, has noted that the decisions by Facebook and Google have occurred in "the dying weeks of the campaign".

It was clear from the outset that this referendum would be a playground for the much-maligned tactics used in the Trump and Brexit campaigns (Aaron Rogan writes).

Abortion is illegal in Ireland under the amendment unless there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother.

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