Is Ireland Getting a Fair Vote?

24/05/2018 Ian Ryan

Our social media manager, Cork’s own Ian Ryan, explains what’s happening in the Repeal the 8th referendum — and what’s at stake

Tomorrow, my home country – The Republic of Ireland – will vote on whether or not to repeal the 8th Amendment which restricts access to abortion. This is an historic vote and the results will deeply impact future generations for years to come.

We at The Fair Vote Project have been closely following the referendum campaign as many troubling allegations surfaced concerning the spread of fake news through targeted ads on Facebook and Google. We have seen loads of information come out in recent weeks about foreign groups interfering and collecting data during this campaign.

Irish politicians, democracy organisations, and news outlets have been vigilant in standing up to these influences and because of this pressure, Facebook has restricted foreign entities from putting up political ads in Ireland and Google has temporarily suspended all political ads in Ireland. However, these changes only came within the last few weeks and the damage may have already been done. Will Facebook and Google’s last ditch efforts be enough?

As an Irish person myself, I’ve seen the spread of a lot of false information online. There’s loads of posters in the streets and people going door to door but so many of the conversations between undecided voters are happening online. The ads targeted at these voters could be the final push that sways their vote in one direction or the other. How can we allow this if these ads are purposely spreading false information?

In the UK, we have yet to see something be done about the cheating and misuse of data in the referendum, two years later. This cannot become the norm. Democracies all over the world must modernise and create laws which protect individuals’ rights to privacy and data protection, especially in relation to political campaigns and elections.

Facebook and Google’s efforts to fight against misleading and unlawful political ads are a start but without a worldwide commitment to protecting the rights of individuals, campaigns and outside groups will continue to use any data at their disposal, creating environments where fake news flourishes and hides in plain sight in ultra-specific targeted ads.

Something must be done and something can be done. This is why The Fair Vote Project is proposing a Digital Bill of Rights. How can we have any more elections when campaigns are increasingly relying on dubious online targeting techniques which don’t fall under traditional electoral laws? Individuals around the world must stand up and demand our rights are respected in digital spaces. Democracy everywhere is counting on it.

Thanks for your continued support.

Ian Ryan, Social Media Manager of The Fair Vote Project

P.S. – The Fair Vote Project has developed a platform of simple but necessary Electoral Commission reforms for the UK. Take a look and let us know what you think.

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