Facebook to lift the lid on Eighth Amendment referendum data

20 Jul 2018

Pro-choice attendees at the March for Choice in Dublin, 2017. Image: Briley/Shutterstock

Facebook has agreed to share the bulk of the data it has relating to the recent referendum on the Eighth Amendment in Ireland.

Just a couple of months after the Irish public voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment, Facebook has said it will agree to release data on advertising that appeared on its platform during the referendum campaign.

Social media was highlighted time and again during the lead up to the vote, by politicians, ordinary citizens and bodies such as the Transparent Referendum Initiative.

Digital interference was certainly an element of the campaign, so much so that Google and Facebook eventually implemented measures to curb malicious advertising. Whether these measures worked is another issue, but it showed how digital campaigns can have an effect on democratic processes.

Facebook agrees to share information

Today (20 July), Facebook has said it will reveal data around the amount of money spent on ads during the lead up to the referendum, which will provide more context on the extent of online advertising in Ireland.

Information around ‘foreign’ advertisements that were rejected by Facebook between 8 and 25 May will be provided to the Transparent Referendum Initiative as well as the Geary Institute at University College Dublin.

Finding answers

On RTÉ Radio 1, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan spoke about the confirmation he received from Facebook regarding the data sharing agreement.

He said the data could help the Transparent Referendum Initiative figure out why exactly overseas ads were totally blocked just a few weeks before the referendum: “We don’t know if that was because there was a wall of money coming in from overseas, or was it because there was particular advertising coming in, or was it just because they felt following the Cambridge Analytica report and Brexit controversy that it was better to be safe.

“It’s important we do know what happened so we get real transparency.”

Ryan added that it is his hope Google does the same. Facebook is said to be sharing approximately 95pc of the data on the subject.

Speaking to Siliconrepublic.com, co-founder of the Transparent Referendum Initiative Liz Carolan said: “We need to get to a point where voters and citizens, as a matter of course, have access to full information about who is paying for what they and others are being shown online, and what information those actors are trying to spread, and to know this in real time.

“The actions of a private company in retrospectively having some transparency over one vote is welcome, but it is no compensation for a parliament-led full, systemic overhaul and the enshrining of our right to know in legislation.”

While this is a positive move in terms of electoral transparency in Ireland, the absence of adequate rules around online political advertising in democratic processes in the country is something that must be urgently addressed.

Updated at 2.43pm, 20 July 2018: This post has been updated to include additional comment from Liz Carolan of the Transparent Referendum Initiative.

Pro-choice attendees at the March for Choice in Dublin, 2017. Image: Briley/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects