Google blocks all online ads related to Eighth Amendment referendum

9 May 2018

Google logo. Image: Sergio Monti Photography/Shutterstock

Google has gone one step ahead of Facebook in the run-up to May’s referendum in Ireland.

The referendum on the Eighth Amendment in Ireland is only a few weeks away, and heavy scrutiny around advertising funding, dark ads, and other opaque campaigns from experts and transparency groups have led to tech companies making major changes ahead of 25 May.

Just yesterday (8 May), Facebook announced that it would be banning all ads relating to the referendum that had come from foreign sources. The company said: “Concerns have been raised about organisations and individuals based outside of Ireland trying to influence the outcome of the referendum on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of Ireland by buying ads on Facebook.”

Google goes for all-out ban

Today (9 May), Google has gone ahead with a much more stringent ban on any and all ads related to the upcoming referendum from its platforms. All relevant ads will now be banned over the next 24 hours and will remain so for the duration of the campaign on Google and YouTube.

A spokesperson for Google said: “Following our update around election integrity efforts globally, we have decided to pause all ads related to the Irish referendum on the Eighth Amendment.”

This announcement from the tech giant is linked to its news on 4 May, when it said it would be introducing a verification process for election ads in the US. While there are no official figures available as to the spending of foreign actors on ads up until this point, social media had been discussing the spike in online ads anecdotally for the last number of weeks.

New rules ahead of Eighth Amendment vote

Facebook’s new system for ad vetting is a version of another planned system, which has not yet been fully implemented on the platform. Domestic campaigners and groups located in Ireland are still permitted to advertise about the campaign on Facebook, at the time of writing.

Currently, in Ireland, social media and internet companies are not banned from accepting ads from groups outside of the State, but campaign groups are not allowed to receive foreign funding.

While these are indeed positive developments for both Google and Facebook, many people would argue that these regulatory changes were not implemented soon enough, particularly as a great deal of citizens may have seen digital advertising or online campaign materials in the many weeks previous to the new bans.

Politicians and transparency advocates have been calling for greater responsibility to be taken by tech companies in terms of upholding democracy for a long time now. In recent years, digital manipulation of voters via social media has been a near-constant topic of discussion, and it seems like firms are finally stepping up to the plate to combat it.

Google logo. Image: Sergio Monti Photography/Shutterstock

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