Facebook has agreed to share data related to advertising during Ireland’s abortion referendum campaign, a move which could give an unprecedented insight into how voters are targeted on social media.
Irish Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has been pushing for the data for months and said the move could have massive implications for election transparency around the world.
He told The Guardian: “Providing data about online spending in the recent Irish abortion referendum sets an important precedent, which should apply now in every future vote.
“We want transparency about online political advertising so hidden funding does not distort the democratic process. What took place during the Brexit referendum and the last US presidential election cannot be ignored or allowed to happen again.”
In a letter from Niamh Sweeney, head of public policy for Facebook Ireland to Ryan, the company agreed to provide “aggregated and anonymised data” capturing both the amount spent on targeting Irish voters between 1 March and 25 May and the total number of ads.
It caveated this with: “Our systems are not currently configured in such a way that makes retrieving this data either straightforward or completely foolproof. For that reason, anything we would share should be interpreted as indicative rather than exact or precise.”
The tech giant had previously resisted sharing the information but caved amid political pressure and a Private Members Bill before the Dail, which would compel such ads to be traceable, the Irish Times reported.
It comes after the social media giant blocked foreign adverts concerning the referendum, which saw Ireland vote resoundingly to reform its strict abortion laws by a two-to-one margin, paving the way for the removal of the constitution’s all but blanket ban on terminations.
The move followed concerns about outsider organisations and individuals trying to influence the outcome of the poll on the Eighth Amendment to the Irish constitution.
“As part of our efforts to help protect the integrity of elections and referendums from undue influence, we will begin rejecting ads related to the referendum if they are being run by advertisers based outside of Ireland,” Facebook said in a statement on its website on 8 May.
In the same letter to Ryan reported today, Sweeney said: “We will work to produce data indicating the number of ads that were rejected as ‘foreign’... while our foreign, referendum-related ads ban was in place, and the and the associated proposed spend.”
Ahead of the vote, Ireland had some of the strictest laws on terminations in the world, with the procedure barred unless the mother’s life was in danger.
Repealing the amendment enabled laws allowing abortion of pregnancies up to 12 weeks.