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Abortion ad ban: Google surpasses Facebook stance on Irish referendum

Abortion ad ban: Google surpasses Facebook stance on Irish referendum
Google will ban all adverts related to the Irish abortion referendum following fears online campaigns could sway the vote.

From Thursday, the search giant will suspend ads related to the referendum on core legislation that currently blocks the termination of pregnancies in Ireland in the vast majority of cases.  

“Following our update around election integrity efforts globally, we have decided to pause all ads related to the Irish referendum on the Eighth Amendment,” Google said in a statement.

The pause on adverts includes Google Adwords and YouTube, which is owned by the search engine’s parent company, and comes after Facebook decided to block ads on its platform which come from organizations and individuals outside of Ireland.

Irish law

In Ireland, rules surrounding online political advertising is not as rigorous as traditional mediums like print, television or radio.

A draft bill on online ad transparency is currently being considered in the Dail (Irish parliament) and could compel companies such Facebook or Google to include notices with the exact details of organizations or individuals behind a particular advert.

Irish citizens will go to the polls to decide whether the Eighth Amendment of the constitution should be repealed. The 1983 law gives the unborn an equal right to life as the mother. With the exception of situations where the life of the mother is at serious risk, the rule effectively outlaws abortion in Ireland.  

Facebook block

Facebook made their announcement on Tuesday, citing anxieties that the integrity of the vote on May 25 could be compromised by foreign interest groups. In recent months, Facebook has been hit by a series of scandals, including the Cambridge Analytica data breach, as well as claims that Russia and other influencers used online methods to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election.

Concerns that Facebook was being used to interfere in the democratic process saw Zuckerberg hauled in front of the US Congress last month, during which he admitted the company “didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility.”

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As a result, Facebook says it’s building “transparency tools” such a ‘view ads’ feature to combat foreign interference. A verification process has just been rolled out to ensure that political adverts come from residents of Ireland, where the vote on a key piece of legislation that currently blocks the termination of pregnancies will take place.

Last month, Irish journalist and transparency advocate Gavin Sheridan highlighted problems in finding out information about organizations behind Facebook pages and sponsored ad campaigns on the Eighth Amendment referendum.

He has pointed out difficulties in Facebook’s view ads, suggesting that people must know the exact pages to check in order view the relevant adverts. “There’s a huge discoverability issue here,” he tweeted on Tuesday.  

The Transparent Referendum Initiative as Sheridan mention's above, is working to highlight the source of funding behind social media ads in the lead up to Ireland’s vote. Manned by a group of volunteers, it aims to identify ways to make advertisements more transparent for voters.

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