Google Bans Ads Related to Irish Abortion Referendum

May 11, 2018 Updated: September 26, 2019

Google has announced it is suspending adverts related to Ireland’s upcoming referendum on abortion, amid concerns about the influence online platforms are having on elections.

The temporary ban comes into force on Thursday, May 10 and will affect adverts on both Google and YouTube, Google confirmed in an email. It will remain in place until after the referendum.

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

The move follows Facebook’s announcement on Tuesday that it would no longer accept ads from outside the country that seek to influence the referendum.

Irish people will vote on May 25 on whether to repeal the eighth amendment to the Irish constitution, which ensures the “right to life of the unborn,” making abortion illegal in the Republic.

Anti-abortion campaign groups Save the 8th, the Pro Life Campaign, and the Iona Institute said in a joint statement that Google’s decision was an attempt to “silence” them out of fear that the “No” side might win the referendum.

“It is very clear that the government, much of the establishment media, and corporate Ireland have determined that anything to secure a Yes vote must be done,” their statement read.

It continued, “Online was the only platform available to the No campaign to speak to voters directly. That platform is now being undermined in order to prevent the public from hearing the message of one side.”

Recent polls show a narrow lead for the Yes side, but a significant number of people have yet to decide.

Many technology companies, including Facebook and Google, have offices in Dublin, leading them to closely scrutinise how their platforms are being used over the election period.

The Irish government has said social media should be regulated so that it is clear who pays for adverts, and that they could make it an offence to use multiple fake social media accounts, The Times reported.

In April, Irish Data Protection Commissioner warned that it was possible foreign companies could target voters in the referendum by using online advertising.

She did, however, tell at the time that such concerns were “largely theoretical.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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