Facebook bans foreign advertisers from Irish abortion referendum

Isaac Cain
May 9, 2018

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

Facebook says starting Tuesday it will "begin rejecting ads related to the referendum if they are being run by advertisers based outside of Ireland".

Facebook said the move was in line with the company's strategy aimed at increasing transparency during political campaigns.

Abortion has always been a divisive issue in Ireland.

The Irish referendum on whether or not to liberalise its abortion laws will give voters the first opportunity in 35 years to repeal a constitutional amendment that has long divided the once deeply Catholic nation.

The social media company has made the decision amid growing concern that individuals and organisations based outside of the country are trying to sway the result of the referendum and influence undecided voters through ad campaigns.

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We are deploying Election Integrity Artificial Intelligence for the referendum, similar to what was established in advance of recent elections in France, Germany and Italy.

The campaigners were pushing for Facebook and other social media companies to ban the practice, saying online and offline regulation should be the same. "All their announcements seem created to stave off regulation, and for me it boils down to do we allow them to self-regulate, or do we regulate ourselves".

The Irish Transparent Referendum Initiative has identified several ads paid for by United Kingdom and US-based anti-abortion groups targeting users in Ireland ahead of the referendum. We will also be using machine learning to help us with this effort to identify ads that should no longer be running.

"We feel the spirit of this approach is also consistent with the Irish electoral law that prohibits campaigns from accepting foreign donations".

What does it mean for advertising around the referendum?

. Two weeks ago Liz Carolan, its founder, said her group "had picked up 144 different pages paying for ads at one point in time over the last few months". It also indicated that it will implement the same rule for future elections in Ireland, disallowing any ads that do not come from registered entities in Ireland. "We are receiving large numbers of screengrabs indicating spend on advertising on these platforms happening under the radar", Carolan said.

No. There is no facility for ordinary users to report the ads directly to Facebook.

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