Google, its subsidiary YouTube, and Facebook have all announced restrictions this week on political advertisements in Ireland in the run up to a major abortion referendum on May 25.
Irish voters will decide in two weeks whether to repeal the country’s Eighth Amendment, which essentially bans abortions in the country with no exceptions for incest or rape. Months after evidence surfaced indicating that foreign activists have been attempting to influence the election through social media, Facebook decided on Tuesday that it would no longer run advertisements on the referendum from users outside of Ireland. Google then announced the next day that it and YouTube would not run any referendum advertisements at all.
According to the Washington Post, most of the outside advertisers are pro-life and hail from the United States, Britain, and Canada. Some of the U.S.-based advertisers include Live Action and the Radiance Foundation, as documented by the Transparent Referendum Initiative, which has compiled a database of online advertising concerning the vote. Facebook also released a “view ads” feature on Tuesday, which allows Irish users to look at all of the paid content that an advertiser is promoting. The company will also roll out this feature in the U.S. prior to the 2018 midterm elections.
Ireland’s campaign finance law does not allow for foreign political donations, but it is largely silent on the matter of online ads because lawmakers passed it before the rise of social media.
Facebook and Google faced criticism in the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election for hosting ads and other content from Kremlin-linked actors attempting to exaggerate political divisions and largely supporting Donald Trump. U.S. lawmakers grilled executives from the two companies, along with Twitter, about the election interference during congressional hearings in the fall. All three companies made promises to improve their ad vetting and transparency policies.