Silicon Valley Deletes the Pro-Life Campaign in Ireland

Protestors stand in front of a Pro-Choice ‘Repeal the 8th Amendment’ mural outside the Project Arts center in Dublin, Ireland, April 23, 2018. (Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters)
Are Google and Facebook rigging the referendum?

After the shock results of Brexit and Trump, historian Niall Ferguson made a bold prediction. “Make no mistake: 2016 will never happen again,” he wrote. Silicon Valley was blamed by the center Left for their electoral misfortunes. These sites allowed the spread of fake news, or were vulnerable to foreign manipulation, liberals argued. And the giant companies had a compelling reason to respond to these complaints. First, to retain the loyalty of young customers. Second, to ward off the prospect of further regulation.

Their response was not to actually do anything about Russian hackers but to begin disempowering the populist and conservative voices who used their platforms. Soon conservative YouTubers watched helplessly as Google demonetized their videos. Facebook hired a phalanx of fact-checkers from liberal media outlets to control the flow of viral news.

And now it seems the big tech companies have decided to draw a line around Ireland, where many of them have their European headquarters and find a suitable tax shelter for their profits. Ireland has scheduled a referendum for May 25 on repealing the Eighth Amendment of their constitution, which forbids abortion. The side urging repeal and the legalization of abortion has held a significant lead in polling during the runup, but one that has been shrinking recently.

In recent weeks, one of Ireland’s leading pro-abortion columnists began baiting the tech companies, saying that the pro-life campaign “will be modelled on those that helped both Donald Trump and Brexit to victory” and that it will deploy “fake news” across social media. This column and many other commentaries amounted to a warning: If the Irish referendum was won by conservatives, the tech companies would get the blame.

Silicon Valley’s giants have responded.

This morning Facebook and Google announced policies that restrict advertising on the Eighth Amendment. First Facebook announced that it was taking action against foreign-based entities, mostly in the U.S., that had placed pro-life ads across Irish social media. The head of the Save the Eighth campaign, John McGuirk, said that this move did not affect their strategy “and should put an end to relentless media focus on about 0.2% of ads bought by overseas groups on both sides.”

However, the leading political reporter at the Irish Times thought that Facebook’s move benefited the Repeal side:

The move by Facebook to no longer accept foreign advertisements relating to the upcoming referendum on the Eighth Amendment will come as welcome news to some on the Yes side of the campaign.

There has been rising concern among some pro-repeal groups and supporters that the referendum could be swayed in its decisive weeks towards a No vote by an avalanche of online ads.

Facebook’s move is likely to be directly related to this fear: and a fear that if the referendum were defeated, the company would face questions about its role in influencing votes, as it has in the US and UK.

In the past fortnight, there has been a rising sense of pessimism in some repeal quarters that the campaign was slipping away from them. Yesterday, the transparency campaigner Gavin Sheridan tweeted that it was now his view that the No side would win the campaign because its online spending was dwarfing that of the Yes campaign.

Facebook’s action seems rash in light of the fact that the only campaign that seemed to have a significant problem with foreign funding was the pro-choice one at Amnesty Ireland, which had been ordered by Ireland’s Standards in Public Office Commission to return illegal donations from the George Soros–funded Open Society Foundation, and then flatly refused to do so.

But Google decided to go one step further and announced a blanket ban on all advertisements, foreign or domestic, on the issue of the referendum. Google’s decision looks neutral on the surface. But, the Repeal side already has overwhelming support in traditional broadcast and print media in Ireland, while the less well-funded campaigns to retain the Eighth Amendment rely on social media. Certainly the reactions of the two leading campaign groups could not be more different.

If they feel the need to appease center-left critics by preemptively disarming Irish pro-lifers, whom will they seek to silence, and throttle, next?

Ailbhe Smyth, the co-director of the main campaign for repealing the Eighth and legalizing abortion, praised the decision by Google, saying that it “creates a level playing field between all sides, specifically in relation to YouTube and Google searches.” McGuirk at Save the Eighth immediately held a press conference, saying that Google’s policy amounted to an attempt to rig the referendum.

One of the hidden dynamics of the controversy over social media and elections is that in the years since Barack Obama first made very effective use of social media, the average age of a Facebook user has steadily climbed. Facebook is now a product used by older people, while the young have flocked to younger products, like Snapchat. The political impact of older social-media companies was always going to reflect a more traditional constituency.

These decisions by Silicon Valley are extremely serious for all conservative activists and publishers who have been investing in using its products for years. If they feel the need to appease center-left critics by preemptively disarming Irish pro-lifers, whom will they seek to silence, and throttle, next?

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

The Sinking Collusion Ship

The entire Trump-Russia collusion narrative was always implausible. One, the Washington swamp of fixers such as Paul Manafort and John and Tony Podesta was mostly bipartisan and predated Trump. Two, the Trump administration’s Russia policies were far tougher on Vladimir Putin than were those of Barack ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Problem with Certainty

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Including those of you having this read to you while you white-knuckle the steering wheel trying to get to wherever you’re going for the ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Worst Cover-Up of All Time

President Donald Trump may be guilty of many things, but a cover-up in the Mueller probe isn’t one of them. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, attempting to appease forces in the Democratic party eager for impeachment, is accusing him of one, with all the familiar Watergate connotations. The charge is strange, ... Read More

Theresa May: A Political Obituary

On Friday, Theresa May, perhaps the worst Conservative prime minister in recent history, announced her resignation outside of number 10 Downing Street. She will step down effective June 7. “I have done my best,” she insisted. “I have done everything I can. . . . I believe it was right to persevere even ... Read More
PC Culture

TV Before PC

Affixing one’s glance to the rear-view mirror is usually as ill-advised as staring at one’s own reflection. Still, what a delight it was on Wednesday to see a fresh rendition of “Those Were the Days,” from All in the Family, a show I haven’t watched for nearly 40 years. This time it was Woody Harrelson ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Democrats’ Other Class War

There is a class war going on inside the Democratic party. Consider these two cris de couer: Writing in the New York Times under the headline “America’s Cities Are Unlivable — Blame Wealthy Liberals,” Farhad Manjoo argues that rich progressives have, through their political domination of cities such as ... Read More

The Deepfake of Nancy Pelosi

You’ve almost made it to a three-day weekend! Making the click-through worthwhile: A quick note about how National Review needs your help, concerns about “deepfakes” of Nancy Pelosi, one of the most cringe-inducing radio interviews of all time, some news about where to find me and the book in the near ... Read More

America’s Best Defense Against Socialism

The United States of America has flummoxed socialists since the nineteenth century. Marx himself couldn’t quite understand why the most advanced economy in the world stubbornly refused to transition to socialism. Marxist theory predicts the immiseration of the proletariat and subsequent revolution from below. ... Read More