Friday 25 May 2018

Facebook will block ads from abroad ahead of abortion vote

Pat Breen, second left, helps turn the sod on a €150m expansion of Google’s second data centre at Grange Castle, south Co Dublin. Photo: Robbie Reynolds
Pat Breen, second left, helps turn the sod on a €150m expansion of Google’s second data centre at Grange Castle, south Co Dublin. Photo: Robbie Reynolds

Adrian Weckler and Ryan Nugent

Facebook's move to block ads from abroad ahead of the abortion referendum will not prevent organisations in Ireland using foreign funding for ads on the platform, it has emerged.

The social media giant said yesterday that it would be putting a block on all advertisements relating to the referendum that come from outside of Ireland.

Facebook was responding to criticism that unaccountable foreign advertising is gaining traction in the referendum campaign. 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.

The company said in a statement that the issue of organisations outside Ireland trying to influence the referendum is an issue it had been thinking about "for some time".

"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," it said.

The company will rely on reports from established campaign groups relating to foreign-based ads. It will not be able to respond to reports or objections from the public, a spokeswoman said, as it does not yet have automated tools to respond to such communications.

Facebook has previously committed to introduce such tools, but says they are not yet ready in time for the Eighth Amendment referendum.

However, the move will not prevent ads that are funded from abroad if they are placed through organisations located in Ireland.

"This change will apply to ads we determine to be coming from a foreign entity which are attempting to influence the outcome of the vote on May 25," Facebook said. "We do not intend to block campaigns and advocacy organisations in Ireland from using service providers outside of Ireland."

The move comes as Twitter has clarified that it will not allow any ads relating to the abortion referendum.

Minister of State for Trade, Business and the EU Digital Single Market Pat Breen said that most organisations in Ireland "are sensible" when asked about the lack of prevention of funding from abroad to organisations located in Ireland.

"Well, it's a start and obviously that's something we have to look at as well in the future in relation to that," Mr Breen said.

"Most organisations here are sensible and we don't have any problems I think with most of them in this country. The problem came from interference in elections in the US and in other areas as well. I think Google and Facebook and all the other social media companies out there will be responsible in relation to this and are facing the consequences that can happen as a result of this," he added.

Mr Breen said he expects the Data Commissioner to work closely with Facebook to ensure there is no interference in elections or referendums. "It's a start, it's a good start. It's as much as they can do at the moment, but we believe that the Data Commissioner will work closely with them in the future to ensure that Facebook remains independent and doesn't interfere with what's happening in the country," he added.

However, Mr Breen said that there was "only so much these companies can do particularly in relation to stopping outside people interfering".

Meanwhile, Google has announced a €150m investment in the expansion of its data centre operations in south Co Dublin. The move will see the creation of 400 new construction jobs in the 16 months it takes to build the facilities at Grange Castle.

Irish Independent

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