Belfast Telegraph

Facebook to block foreign ads relating to Irish abortion referendum

Concerns were raised about outside organisations and individuals influencing the outcome of the poll.

Facebook is to block foreign adverts concerning Ireland’s abortion referendum.

The move followed concerns about outsider organisations and individuals trying to influence the outcome of the poll on the Eighth Amendment to the Irish constitution.

Ireland has some of the strictest laws on terminations in the world, with the procedure barred unless the mother’s life is in danger.

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People stand beside a mural in Dun Laoghaire calling for a repeal of the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution (Niall Carson/PA)

Repealing the amendment would enable laws allowing abortion of pregnancies up to 12 weeks.

Votes will be cast on Friday May 25.

A Facebook statement said: “Today, as part of our efforts to help protect the integrity of elections and referendums from undue influence, we will begin rejecting ads related to the referendum if they are being run by advertisers based outside of Ireland.

“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 organisation running a political ad is located in that country.”

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Campaigners at the launch of the LoveBoth Vote No campaign (Brian Lawless/PA)

The technology giant has already introduced a view ads feature – which enables Irish Facebook users to see all ads any advertiser is running on Facebook in Ireland at the same time.

Last month Irish data protection commissioner Helen Dixon raised concern that foreign actors could try to influence the referendum.

The additional election integrity tools we are building include a verification process Facebook

The Facebook statement added: “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.”

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

“This change will apply to ads we determine to be coming from foreign entities which are attempting to influence the outcome of the vote on May 25.”

The company said it was deploying “election integrity artificial intelligence” for the referendum, similar to that before recent elections in France, Germany and Italy.

“Those efforts will direct our artificial intelligence capabilities to identify fake accounts, misinformation, or foreign interference.”

James Lawless, the Fianna Fail party’s technology spokesman, claimed the measure was forced on Facebook by growing public and political pressure.

“People are beginning to recognise that murky political activity on social media is having a corrosive effect on our democratic process.”

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