Irish broadcaster RTÉ takes Facebook to task over fake news video

1 May 2018

March for Choice demonstration in Dublin in September 2017. Image: Briley/Shutterstock

As Ireland trundles closer to the pivotal Eighth referendum, the national broadcaster has hit out at its misrepresentation in a fake news video.

Ireland’s State broadcaster RTÉ has taken social network Facebook to task over how a paid-for post circulated on the platform in the form of a fake news video.

According to RTÉ, the ad gave the appearance of being a genuine RTÉ News report on the issue of abortion.

The upcoming referendum on 25 May will ask the Irish electorate if it wishes to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution. The Amendment grants equal rights to the mother and an unborn child, thus restricting legislation allowing for terminations to exceptional circumstances.

It is a highly emotive debate in Ireland and desperate tactics from both sides to sway voters are emerging.

The paid-for ad in question gave the appearance of being a serious news report. The video had also appeared on YouTube and, following representations by the broadcaster, was removed.

The ad was also suspended on Facebook yesterday (30 April) but, according to RTÉ, the Facebook user’s account remains active. It is understood that the advertising account has been shut down and the owner of the account can no longer run advertisements on the social network.

Defending democracy in the age of digital

Politicians from Fianna Fáil and Solidarity-PBP said the fact that the issue emerged at all flew in the face of assurances given to a recent Oireachtas communications committee by Facebook’s vice-president for global policy, Joel Kaplan.

At the Oireachtas hearing, which followed the recent Cambridge Analytica data scandal, Facebook revealed that it created a new View Ads tool to allow users to see all ads from advertisers ahead of the referendum on the Eighth.

The core of the Cambridge Analytica scandal was not only how users’ data was accessed, but ultimately how they were then allegedly targeted with advertising to sway political outcomes such as the presidential election of Donald Trump in the US or the British decision to leave the EU.

Using the new View Ads tool, users will be able to click on the advertiser’s page, select ‘About’ and scroll to ‘View Active Ads’ where they will see all of the ads that the page is running on Facebook.

Following the global launch of the feature in June, a second phase will identify who has paid for particular ads as well as providing data on the reach of the ad. However, that information will clearly only be available after the Eighth referendum has taken place in Ireland.

Meanwhile, questions are already being asked in the public arena about the source of some overseas funding for digital ad campaigns targeting Irish voters ahead of the referendum.

March for Choice demonstration in Dublin in September 2017. Image: Briley/Shutterstock

Updated, 7.51am, 2 May 2018: This article was updated to correct a mistaken reference to Brexit and to clarify that Britain voted to leave the EU in 2016. 

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years