May 24, 2018

Facebook bans foreign campaigning in Ireland's abortion referendum

11 May 2018, 01:06 | Franklin Nunez

Facebook to reject abortion referendum ads from outside Ireland

'A welcome development': Facebook says it will ban all Eighth referendum ads from foreign sources

Facebook will no longer accept ads from groups outside of Ireland related to the upcoming abortion referendum, the social network announced Tuesday.

There had been worries that foreign ads could influence the result of the vote.

"Concerns have been raised about organizations and individuals based outside of Ireland trying to influence the outcome of the referendum on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of Ireland by buying ads on Facebook", the company said in a statement. Ireland doesn't allow political donations from other countries, but its laws don't cover advertising on social media.

The additional election integrity tools we are building include a verification process that requires the advertiser to be resident in the country where the election is taking place.

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.

On May 25, voters will decide whether to repeal the eighth amendment to Ireland's constitution, which prohibits abortion unless there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother.

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However, this action did not extend to blocking ads simply because they had been placed by foreign organisations.

Facebook has also reportedly launched a new "view ads" tool in Ireland, which will allow Irish users to see every single ad an advertiser is running, not just the one they're being served. We will then assess and act on those reports.

Liz Carolan of the Transparent Referendum Initiative, a group set up to monitor online content during the campaign, said that Facebook's decision to ban foreign-sourced advertising was a step in the right direction, but that more needed to be done.

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. Our goal is simple: to help ensure a free, fair and transparent vote on this important issue".

As for who is paying for those ads, said Sheridan, "the only people who know that for certain are Facebook themselves". The Times previously reported that a US-based anti-abortion group had paid to target Irish voters...

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