WASHINGTON – Is paid political speech in the form of pre-election advertising “election meddling”?
That would seem to be the conclusion of Google and Facebook, at least with regard to the upcoming vote in Ireland on whether a 1983 constitutional pro-life amendment should be overturned in the predominantly Catholic country.
Pro-life groups insist the actions by the tech giants represent an effort to rig the election, depriving opponents of the ability to dissent.
The vote is set for May 25.
This month, Facebook announced it will block ads on the referendum that do not originate from advertisers in Ireland. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg is vowing to have tighter restrictions on data that can influence politics.
A day after Facebook’s announcement, Google said it would suspend all ads related to the referendum until after the vote.
“Following our update around election integrity efforts globally, we have decided to pause all ads related to the Irish referendum on the Eighth Amendment,” Google said in a statement.
A joint statement by three groups – Save The 8th, Pro Life Campaign and the Iona Institute – describes the tech companies’ bans as “an attempt to rig the referendum.” They claim that the internet was “the only platform available to the NO campaign to speak to voters directly,” adding that is “now being undermined.”
Lawmakers approved the repeal amendment in March and say if the referendum passes, they will push legislation for abortion up to 12 weeks.
The latest polls give a slight advantage to the pro-abortion forces. In rural communities such as Doolin in County Clare, the pro-life anti-repeal sentiment holds a majority.
All constitutional amendments in Ireland are subject to an open vote by the citizenry.
Ireland has a population of roughly 4.7 million people, with 78 percent considering themselves Catholic, according to the 2016 census.