Digital Crisis In the Irish Referendum

08/05/2018 News

The Fair Vote Project has learned an investigation carried out by Claire Provost and Lara Whyte at openDemocracy 50.50 suggests that foreign and ‘alt-right’ activists are using social media to target Irish voters during the upcoming referendum on the 8th amendment – an amendment that restricts abortion under most circumstances.

It is against Irish law for foreign actors to donate to Irish campaigning groups however this law does not apply to digital adverts of a political nature on social media platforms – this loophole could allow foreign citizens and groups to influence elections by targeting voters.

openDemocracy 50.50 said it had “analysed newly-released data compiled by the Transparent Referendum Initiative (TRI) which show that 145 groups and individuals have bought more than 350 Facebook ads about the referendum. Most of the advertisers appear to be based in Ireland but there are also foreign organisations on the list. Several of the Irish advertisers, including both anti-abortion and pro-choice groups, also have significant international connections.”

The Fair Vote Project has been focussing on similar issues in the United Kingdom and believes it is imperative to both draw attention to this issue and advise on urgent action that can be taken: An immediate suspension of digital political advertising across social media platforms until new legislation is updated so that it can effectively regulate the use of data and targeting during elections and prevent foreign meddling in the democratic processes of other nations that are meant to be sovereign.

On the list uncovered by openDemocracy 50.50 most foreign groups are based in the United States and Canada. One group based in Virginia called the Radiance Foundation is known for creating highly shareable social media content and using language similar to Black Lives Matter to attack black women who have abortions.

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