A computer specialist who once provided digital services to the scandal-hit data firm Cambridge Analytica is now working with a prominent pro-life group campaigning to persuade Irish voters to keep the country’s strict anti-abortion laws.
Thomas Borwick is working with the Save The 8th anti-abortion campaign via his London-based data and analytics firm Kanto.
Borwick previously worked with Cambridge Analytica through its parent company SCL, according to the Guardian. Borwick confirmed to HuffPost UK that the work consisted of selling an app his company developed to SCL.
He went on to become the chief technology officer of the Vote Leave campaign, which campaigned for Brexit.
The 30-year-old is now a director of several firms, including one named Disruptive Analytica, a digital marketing firm which lists former UKIP MP Douglas Carswell as company director. Borwick, the son of former Kensington MP Victoria Borwick, is the sole director of Kanto.
There is concern that micro-targeting on social media sites, the tactics used by Cambridge Analytica, may be being used to influence the referendum in Ireland, due to be held on May 25. A new database has been set up to track Facebook adverts used by campaigns in the referendum so far.
Liz Carolan, a data specialist, who helps run the impartial Transparent Referenda Initiative (TRI), said the recent allegations regarding Cambridge Analytica’s digital work campaigning raised the possibility that similar techniques could be being used to influence Ireland’s referendum campaign.
Carolan added: “We have a situation whereby these ads can go under the radar, they are highly targeted, and you don’t necessarily see them all.
“We’ve identified those posts that have been paid to be boosted but we don’t know how much has been spent.”
TRI’s database reveals that Save The 8th, which registered as an official third party in the referendum in January, has bought at least six ads on Facebook so far.
A Save The 8th advert from February reads: “The heart-breaking truth is that in Britain, 90% of babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome are killed by abortion. We don’t want this for Ireland and for our communities. Let’s #Vote No to abortion, #SaveThe8th and give real help and support to heroic families.”
The ad received 5,800 reactions and over 1,600 shares.
In a statement Save The 8th said: “Kanto are building our website and online platform, and performing some data analytics for us based on incoming traffic and ad engagement. They are not engaged in any voter profiling or voter targeting.”
They added that Ireland “is too small for such voter targeting to be necessary or cost-effective”.
Politicians in Ireland have already called for greater transparency over the campaigns being run ahead of the May 25 referendum.
Ireland bans political advertising for broadcasters, but has no restrictions on social media.
Groups on opposing sides of the debate have called for the monitoring of social media ahead of the vote, including Catherine Murphy, co-leader of the Social Democrats, and James Lawless, the Fianna Fáil technology spokesman.
The TRI database also reveals some social ads seen by Irish voters have been published on Facebook pages based outside of Ireland, including in the United States, raising the question of foreign influence in the decisive vote.
No declaration of foreign sponsorship or involvement in third party campaigns is currently required in Ireland.
When approached by HuffPost UK via email Borwick confirmed that Cambridge Analytica had used his mobile application but said he had never worked “for” the firm. Asked to clarify his relationship, he said: “I have never been anything more than a director of the firm Kanto systems that sold an app to SCL.”
When asked about Kanto’s work with Save The 8th, Borwick sent a link to the group’s spokesperson.