The countdown for Ireland’s historic abortion referendum has started, with Facebook taking the unprecedented move of banning foreign advertising on its platform.
Ireland faces a historical referendum on May 25, posing the question of whether to liberalize one of the hardest regimes in Europe, second only to Poland.
Ireland has a blanket ban on abortion embedded in the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution, dating back to 1983; that amendment was also introduced via a referendum. Since 2013, abortion in Ireland may be allowed if a doctor can make the case that the mother’s life is in danger. However, there is no provision for cases of rape, incest, or fetal abnormality.
Now voters will be asked whether they want to repeal that amendment. Advocacy groups have been campaigning for years, as the political mood in the Republic of Ireland has changed.
Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the company is trying to salvage its reputation for facilitating foreign intervention in elections. On Tuesday, the company said it would block foreign-funded posts in the lead up to the vote.
Since April 25, Facebook is also piloting a “view adds” function in Ireland, which allows viewers to see that specific content is sponsored by advertisers.
Irish law prohibits foreign funding for political campaigns, although this does not apply to social media advertising. However, following the Brexit and Trump campaign scandals, Facebook is keen to avoid its association with yet another politically controversial campaign. To enforce this rule, the platform will rely on reports from established campaign groups to identify foreign-based advertisements.
The debate is already highly polarized and fiercely fought, especially as Ireland is planning to host Pope Francis for the World Meeting of Families event (21-26 August 2018).