Facebook briefly reveals international role in campaigning on Eighth

180 groups promoting ads on abortion issue shows 74% managed by people solely based in Ireland

A Facebook group called Save the 8th was revealed to be managed by 14 people, some of whom were located in Hungary and the United Kingdom. File photograph: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images

A Facebook group called Save the 8th was revealed to be managed by 14 people, some of whom were located in Hungary and the United Kingdom. File photograph: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images

 

Facebook accidentally revealed for a brief time today the extent of international involvement in online campaigning in Ireland’s abortion referendum, which will be decided later this month.

From a sample of 180 groups promoting ads intended to influence the outcome of the upcoming referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment, 74 per cent were found to be managed by people solely based in Ireland.

Groups on both sides were revealed to be co-managed by members located in various locations around the world, from the US (9 per cent), UK (10 per cent), Germany (3 per cent) and as far away as Croatia (0.6 per cent), China (0.6 per cent), Sweden (0.5 per cent) and Hungary (0.5 per cent).

On groups promoting ads for the retain side, only 64 per cent were managed by people solely located in Ireland. Three pages targeting anti-repeal messaging to Irish Facebook users were based in the US, while 16 per cent of anti-repeal pages from the sample had some involvement from a US based “page manager”.

A Facebook group called Save the 8th was revealed to be managed by 14 people, some of whom were located in Hungary and the United Kingdom. Another page titled Protect the 8th was revealed to be managed from the United States, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, on the repeal side, 78 per cent of groups’ page managers were found to be solely based in Ireland, while 5 per cent had some involvement from US-based page managers, 9 per cent from the UK and 3 per cent from Germany.

‘Ads feature’

Facebook did not show how the location of those running the campaign groups was assessed, and the entire “ads feature” was removed within a few hours of the location tool first appearing.

In a statement, Facebook said it was testing a product to make pages more transparent, which led to the mistake. “We announced earlier this year that we would make pages more transparent, like show whether a page has changed its name,” it said.

“Today, we mistakenly launched an early test to people in Canada and Ireland. We are still working on the product so have since rolled it back. This also meant rolling back ads transparency in those countries for a few hours, which will be back online shortly.”

Speaking on the data, which was collected by Transparency Referendum Initiative in partnership with Storyful, Liz Carolan commented: “It confirms for us some fears we had about anonymous pages (that) shouldn’t be allowed to push information because we don’t know where they’re from or what they’re doing.”

Speaking on the location information which was later removed, she said: “(This) shows there are insights that these companies are sitting on (in regard to) what is happening in this referendum and we all have the right to have access to this information before we go and vote.”

“Ultimately we as a country need to have a conversation about who we think we’re OK with being involved in campaigning in this referendum”.

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