Foreign donation concern as Facebook ad probed
Facebook has reported adverts campaigning for a No vote in yesterday's referendum to a State watchdog and senior Government officials because it is concerned about foreign interference.
In a letter, seen by the Irish Independent, the social media firm wrote to the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) last month expressing concerns about foreign adverts.
Its concerns arose after an Irish campaign group had its content reshared and 'boosted' by another Facebook page based in the US. Boosting allows advertisers to pay a fee to quickly create a Facebook ad using a post on the website. The post will then appear higher up on an audience's news feed.
The advertiser can show it to a targeted audience on the website based on the information Facebook holds on each individual user.
Facebook was concerned posts made by campaigners in Ireland and then promoted by an American-owned page could be considered a foreign donation. The Electoral Act, enforced by Sipo, bans political donations by foreign individuals and organisations.
Facebook raised this issue during a meeting with officials at the Department of Communications on April 16, the same day it wrote to Sipo. A Sipo investigation was then launched to examine the advert and the content shared on Facebook.
Niamh Sweeney, Facebook's head of public policy, told Sipo the company was concerned that 'boosting' of content amounted to a foreign donation because it was an American organisation who paid for the advert.
In the letter, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Ms Sweeney wrote she was concerned laws in this area were "opaque" and she was seeking the watchdog's advice. She told Sipo the advert in question was reported to the website and it was later removed.
Facebook declined to comment or state what groups were involved in sharing the posts and adverts in question.