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Facebook, Google Ad Crackdowns Hurt Pro-Life Campaign against Irish Abortion Referendum

A Pro-Life campaigner demonstrates outside the Irish Parliament ahead of a vote to allow limited abortion in Ireland, Dublin July 10, 2013. (Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)

Google announced Wednesday that it will no longer accept ads related to the upcoming Irish abortion referendum, disproportionately harming pro-life advocates who have relied more heavily than their opponents on digital advertising.

The announcement came roughly two weeks before the May 25 referendum, and one day after Facebook announced it would no longer accept referendum-related ads purchased by foreign entities.

“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. “We feel the spirit of this approach is also consistent with the Irish electoral law that prohibits campaigns from accepting foreign donations.”

The referendum will determine the fate of the Eight Amendment to the Irish Constitution, which grants mothers and unborn children an equal right to life regardless of the circumstances surrounding conception and pregnancy.

Pro-life groups, primarily from the U.S., Britain, and Canada, have been pouring a disproportionate amount of money into digital advertising relative to their pro-choice opponents, according to the Transparent Referendum Initiative, a nonpartisan organization tracking paid online advertising.

Pro-choice groups, many of which lauded the ad moratoriums announced by Google and Facebook, seem to rely more heavily on traditional media to spread their message.

Ailbhe Smyth, co-director of the Together for Yes campaign — a group committed to repealing the Eighth Amendment — praised Google’s ban on referendum-related advertising, telling the Irish Times that it “creates a level playing field between all sides, specifically in relation to YouTube and Google searches.” She said that activists on both sides of the debate can now “seek to convince the Irish electorate by the strength of their argument and power of personal testimony, not by the depth of their pockets.”

Pro-life campaigners, meanwhile, accused the tech giants of “shutting down a free and fair debate.” A statement signed by three pro-life groups called the decision a “scandalous…attempt to rig” the vote.

“It is very clear that the Government, much of the establishment media, and corporate Ireland have determined that anything that needs to secure a Yes vote, must be done,” the statement said.

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