Hot Press first raised the issue of social media and internet advertising, relating to the referendum on abortion, in November 2017. This week, there has been a dramatic response to the campaign we have been running since then, with Facebook announcing plans to restrict referendum advertising from outside the jurisdiction – and Google going one step further by stopping all referendum-related advertising. But there is still more to be done, says Hot Press editor Niall Stokes...
Google has announced that it will no longer allow ads that relate to the upcoming referendum on the 8th Amendment.
The search engine giant made the decision today, following concerted pressure on social media publishers and other monopolistic internet platforms, exerted by Hot Press, along with others who are concerned that the democratic process might be poisoned by fake advertising.
Google’s decision came 24 hours after Facebook – the prime target of the campaign run by Hot Press in relation to referendum advertising – announced that it would no longer take advertising from outside Ireland, that has to do with the referendum.
Hot Press led the way on this issue, first asking direct questions of Facebook, in an editorial in Hot Press, published in November 2017. The magazine has run a number of follow-up articles, putting further pressure on the handful of internet giants, on an issue that goes to the heart of Irish democracy, and how it works.
And that continued yesterday, when the magazine shifted its attention to Google.
"Meanwhile, Google – which owns YouTube – is likely to come under immense pressure to follow suit,” Hot Press said in its coverage of Facebook’s decision yesterday. “Ads (relating to the abortion referendum) have been appearing alongside YouTube videos, which potentially might be viewed by children. It is also unclear how much advertising YouTube has run which originated outside the jurisdiction.”
Hot Press then specifically challenged Google to go further than Facebook – which it has now done.
"Hot Press is now calling on Google to follow Facebook’s lead on this issue – and indeed to go further,” we said, "by refusing all Referendum-related advertising, not least given the misinformation being peddled by the various 'no' campaigns.”
Google’s announcement has been met with predictable anger by the ’No’ campaign. The word on the grapevine is that they had planned an advertising blitz via social media and internet companies, which would have started tomorrow. Now, it seems that this propaganda campaign – which inevitably would have heavily featured the kind of deliberately mendacious and misleading material which has been appearing on lamp-posts all over the country this past month – might just be frustrated.
That, however, depends on how they might twist and turn to get their ads out on Facebook.
“It is clear that Facebook too should now go all the way,” Hot Press editor Niall Stokes said tonight, “by banning all advertising on the referendum – as had been suggested, very early on in this campaign, by Hot Press. There is no reason whatsoever why they cannot do so. Their only continuing reason for accepting advertising is the profit motive. Are Facebook seriously saying that their desire to make as much money a possible from advertising is more important than ensuring that the referendum is – even belatedly – kept as free as possible from unseemly propaganda, outside interference, and the power of the advertising dollar? If they have the interests of Irish citizens and Irish democracy at heart, then they will match Google – and see if there is any way that they can raise them."
In the light of today’s developments, it is worth looking again at what Hot Press Editor Niall Stokes – who has posed vital questions on the issue to Facebook, in a series of articles in Hot Press – said yesterday, about Facebook’s announcement.
“There is a real question as to whether Facebook have gone far enough,” he said, in direct response to the Facebook statement. “I don't think they have. It is still the case that there is no proper regulation of advertising on social media – which means that false and deliberately misleading advertising is allowed to flourish. No one knows how much is being spent – on either side. And so it is not a question of fake news – but fake advertising.
“There is a further issue of the use and abuse of data innocently supplied to Facebook – and mined, either illicitly or otherwise, by the kind of marketing company which specialises in covert campaigns of one kind or another.
"We have already asked questions of the Minister for Communications, Denis Naughton, in relation to the very obvious failure of the State to understand, or to legislate to protect, the basic democratic freedoms that have been put at risk by Facebook, and other Transnational Surveillance Capitalist Monoliths.”
Today’s developments answer, in part, some of those concerns. However, we believe that – in the interests of the ‘transparency' which they like to trumpet – Facebook, Google and any of the other major players should reveal to the Irish electorate just how much has been paid to them for referendum-related advertising up to today; provide a list of all advertisers and ads; give precise amounts that have been spent by the ‘No’ side and the ‘Yes’ side respectively; and identify how much of this advertising and money came from outside the jurisdiction.
"If they choose not to do this, then their soundbites about transparency will be seen as mere posturing," Niall Stokes said tonight. "It is up to them to come forward, and give the people of Ireland the information to which they are entitled."
This issue was first raised by Hot Press in November 2017. It is not as if the companies were not warned. Twitter, in fairness, took the lead among the companies that gather together under the Surveillance Capitalist umbrella. But Facebook and Google started out taking the money and turning a blind eye.
It is Hot Press' view that they owe it to Irish people to come clean about the full facts – and to do it now.
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