Ireland: Facebook to curb foreign ads related to abortion referendum

Georgia Reed
May 11, 2018

The company, which was heavily criticised for failing to stop Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, announced yesterday that it had banned advertisements relating to the sensitive referendum that did not originate inside Ireland. The move follows accusations that attempts have been made to swing votes across the world through foreign-funded campaigns and so-called astroturfing.

Concerns have been raised about the influence organisations and individuals based outside of Ireland have had on the outcome of the referendum thanks to a legal loophole that allows them to buy adverts on social media.

It appears Facebook is trying to appear proactive where regulations may be slow to catch up - in Ireland, overseas political donations are banned, but foreign social media ads aren't.

It is the latest move by Facebook to boost the transparency of its political advertising with the social media giant under scrutiny for its role in Britain's Brexit referendum and the 2016 United States presidential election.

Many countries, including the United States, prohibit foreign groups from advertising in domestic elections, but regulating the spending is hard with more political activity moving online.

Facebook stated the ban will apply equally to both sides of the debate and that it has "built relationships with political parties, groups representing both sides of the campaign".

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"Our view ads feature - which enables Irish Facebook users to see all of the ads any advertiser is running on Facebook in Ireland at the same time - has been fast tracked and is operational today", the company said.

Facebook has not applied such a policy to British elections or referendums. The Times previously reported that a US-based anti-abortion group had paid to target Irish voters...

Meanwhile a 2013 change in the law, which was not put to a referendum, allowed for the exemption of mothers whose lives are endangered.

"We have already begun to roll out the first of our ad transparency tools in Ireland".

The company will soon start requiring political advertisers to be residents in the country where the election is taking place. It added: "We will then assess and act on those reports".

Facebook said that its ban on ads not from the Republic would be effective from 8 May. To enforce this rule, the platform will rely on reports from established campaign groups to identify foreign-based advertisements.

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