Facebook blocking foreign ads targeting Irish abortion referendum

11 May, 2018, 01:09 | Author: Colin Gill
  • 'A welcome development': Facebook says it will ban all Eighth referendum ads from foreign sources

Facebook is banning foreign advertisements relating to Ireland's abortion referendum amid fears United States groups are trying to influence the result.

The vote has drawn global attention and last month Helen Dixon, the Irish data protection commissioner, said it was possible that foreign actors could try to tilt the outcome.

Ireland bars political contributions from overseas, but the law does not apply to social media advertising.

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 USA presidential election. And while Ireland forbids foreign spending in campaigns, its election law is silent on digital activity.

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.

What we are now doing for the referendum on the Eighth Amendment will allow us to operate as though these tools, which are not yet fully available, were in place today with respect to foreign referendum-related advertising.

"Our company approach is to build tools to increase transparency around political advertising so that people know who is paying for the ads they are seeing, and to ensure any organization running a political ad is located in that country", Facebook said in a blog post outlining the Irish decision.

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Ads uploaded to Facebook by organisations based in the country could still be funded by foreign sources, however. The company has changed its News Feed algorithm to de-emphasize political news and has hired thousands of moderators globally to spot rumors and extremist content.

The move is part of a broader effort to help protect the integrity of voting, the company said.

Abortion has always been a divisive issue in Ireland.

Facebook said that its ban on ads not from the Republic would be effective from 8 May. We will then assess and act on those reports.

The Transparent Referendum Initiative has been tracking online advertising around the vote. To enforce this rule, the platform will rely on reports from established campaign groups to identify foreign-based advertisements.

In a bid to gain confidence, Facebook launched a pilot of its "View Ads" tool in Ireland last month.

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