Following accusations of attempted outside influence on Ireland’s Eighth Amendment referendum Facebook has agreed to reveal data on ads bought in the run up to the vote.
The Eighth Amendment referendum in May was a huge conversation all around Ireland – and beyond. It was a significant and historic event for our country. However it also highlighted the far-reaching issue of outside influence on a country’s policy-making and politics.
In the weeks running up to the referendum, there was much speculation that groups outside Ireland were purchasing online ads to try to influence the result. This echoed similar claims of foreign interference during the 2016 American presidential race and the UK Brexit vote that same year. On 8 May Facebook announced it was banning all ads relating to the Eighth Amendment referendum if they were from outside of Ireland.
Calls for transparency
Since then, and following revelations about external interference in other countries, there have been growing calls for both information and transparency.
After much controversy, Facebook has agreed to release comprehensive anonymised data on advertisements relating to May's referendum. It is thought the information will be given to the UCD Geary Institute and the Transparent Referendum Initiative. The company will reveal information around how much was spent on ads in the lead up the referendum, from 1 March to 25 May. It will also provide data on the proposed spending it rejected following its ban.
A need for legislation
The Green Party’s Eamon Ryan has welcomed the news. Ryan has headed calls for more transparency around online campaigning, and the introduction of new legislation to regulate the whole area. Following the Facebook announcement he said:
“We want transparency about online political advertising so hidden funding does not distort the democratic process. What took place during the Brexit referendum and the last US presidential election cannot be ignored or allowed to happen again.”