‘Dark ads’ cast shadow over Ireland’s referendum on abortion

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Dublin, May 19 (IANS) Attempts by Facebook and Google to tackle “dark ads” and foreign interference in the run-up to Ireland’s referendum on abortion have not been entirely successful, data from a transparency group seen by CNN has shown.

Ireland’s abortion laws — some of the most restrictive in the developed world — are enshrined in the eighth amendment to the country’s constitution, which places an unborn child’s right to life on equal footing with that of the mother.

On May 25, Ireland will vote to repeal or retain the amendment.

The Transparent Referendum Initiative (TRI), a volunteer organisation set up to monitor social-media posts about the referendum has collected ads from 180 Facebook groups targeting the Irish voters.

Facebook announced it would ban all ads from foreign groups on May 8, and said: “We understand the sensitivity of this campaign and will be working hard to ensure neutrality at all stages.

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“We are an open platform for people to express ideas and views on both sides of a debate. Our goal is simple: to help ensure a free, fair and transparent vote on this important issue.”

But the TRI data shows that out of around 200 new ads related to the vote since that announcement, at least 31 per cent have been administered at least in part by page managers outside Ireland, CNN reported.

Google also announced it would not accept any political ads on any side of the campaign last week. “Following our update around election integrity efforts globally, we have decided to pause all ads related to the Irish referendum on the Eighth Amendment,” a statement read.

Yet screenshots sent to TRI from voters in Ireland after that announcement showed ads continuing to appear on Google’s platform.

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One week after Google said it would “pause all ads related to the Irish referendum on the Eighth Amendment”, some ads were still appearing in those searches.

Google said they had “taken action” after being showed this ad.

Irish law bans foreign citizens and groups from making donations to campaign groups and prohibits political ads on television or radio broadcasts during campaigns, CNN said.

The ad bans do not extend online or on social, meaning anyone is open to buying an ad on platforms like Facebook or Google.

–IANS

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