Adverts relating to the Eighth Ammendment are still appearing online despite a ban on all ads by Google and on overseas-funded ads by Facebook.
The Transparent Referendum Initiative (TRI) has released its analysis of the use of online ads during the referendum campaign.
Since February, it captured 1,300 Facebook ads from 280 unique advertisers. More than 400 ads were collected in the last week alone.
The research found that nearly two-thirds (62%) of the advertisers online during the referendum were not registered with the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo).
Of the groups not registered or associated with Sipo, 135 (79%) were Irish, 16 (9%) were from advertisers based outside Ireland, while 21 (12%) were untraceable.
A total of 749 ads (58%) were associated with repeal and 532 (42%) were on the retain side. When it comes to groups promoting these ads, 183 (67%) were repeal advertisers and 90 (33%) were in favour of retaining the Eighth Amendment.
The TRI said these ads likely represented only a fraction of all the advertising that had been purchased on Facebook during this period.
It pointed out that no complete data on the extent of advertising and the amount of money which has been spent has been shared by Facebook.
The TRI also collected screengrabs of political ads seen on online platforms such as Google, YouTube, and others. Groups were found to be paying for unregulated advertising on videos, websites, news sites, web searches, and apps prior to Google withdrawing these.
The TRI said its research showed that Google’s ban on advertising “did not work” and that unregulated ads continued and had been flagged appearing on international news sites, gaming apps, as video on streaming services, Spotify, as well as on an academic bibliography generating site.
It pointed out that The Guardian, which found out from the TRI that ads were appearing on its site, noted that it was unable to ensure referendum-related ads did not appear on its site, and that Google had been involved in the distribution of these ads on its site.
TRI co-founder Liz Carolan said the analysis showed self-regulation does not work for online advertising.
“What we need from these companies is transparency — full disclosure of who has paid them to influence this vote, and how much they have paid,” she said. “It is then up to our Government to make sure that the rules governing finance in our elections cover digital spending.:
Asked about foreign groups trying to influence the vote, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “This is a decision for the Irish people. This is our constitution and really it’s a decision we need to make for ourselves. So whether overseas actors are on the yes side or the no side, we respect their views but would prefer if they allowed us make the decision for ourselves.”
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