Facebook to block foreign spending on Irish abortion vote ads

Noel Cummings
May 10, 2018

The social media giant said yesterday that it would be putting a block on all advertisements relating to the referendum that come from outside of Ireland.

Ireland has a blanket ban on abortion embedded in the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution, dating back to 1983; that amendment was also introduced via a referendum.

However, the move will not prevent ads that are funded from overseas if they are placed through organisations located in Ireland.

"This is an issue we have been thinking about for some time", Facebook said in a statement.

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Facebook is blocking all foreign spending on advertising around Ireland's upcoming referendum on abortion in an effort to adhere to the "principles" of the country's election spending laws. As a result, individuals and groups from outside of Ireland - primarily from the United States, Britain and Canada - have been waging an online campaign to influence the vote, according to the Transparent Referendum Initiative, a nonpartisan organization tracking paid online advertising.

It will not be able to respond to reports or objections from the public, as it does not yet have automated tools to respond to such communications, a spokeswoman said.

A new "view ads" tool, which is still in trial mode after launching on April 25, allows users to see all of the ads an advertiser is running on the site in Ireland.

In order to increase transparency around political advertising, Facebook has been developing a series of "election integrity tools", which will seek to inform users who the payee is and where they are from.

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The statement goes on to note that the integrity tool will require the advertiser to verify their location.

Facebook has been accused of allowing its platform to be used by outside entities to impact the outcomes of key votes, including Britain's Brexit referendum and the 2016 USA presidential election.

Its campaign Co-Director Ailbhe Smyth said: "We view this as a clear recognition by Facebook that external forces with vast resources can have disproportionate yet impactful influence in political campaigns".

Transparency campaigners and advocates have been voicing concerns over a number of hard to trace advertisements related to the referendum that have been appearing on Facebook and other platforms in recent weeks. Our goal is simple: "to help ensure a free, fair and transparent vote on this important issue".

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