Higgins welcomes Facebook suspension of foreign-purchased referendum ads

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins has welcomed Facebook’s announcement that they will end sales of online political ads to overseas actors in advance of the May 25 Referendum. She described it as a sign that the platform is listening to some of the concerns raised by herself and others, including civil society groups like Transparency Referendum.

She said that other platforms including Google and indeed YouTube now need to step up and show that they are also taking this issue seriously.

Senator Higgins, who first raised concerns around the impact of unregulated online political ads at the World Forum on Democracy last November, had over recent weeks highlighted the large volume of political advertisements and sponsored content being targeted at Irish voters, including ads from unaccountable, unidentified or international actors” and called on platforms to ensure “the forthcoming referendum does not become another case study for bad practices”.

While emphasising that this is an area which needs legislation and regulation”, the Senator had called on platforms to stop selling unregulated online political ads until proper regulations are in place.

“While further action is required in this area, I welcome Facebook’s engagement with the issues and their recognition of responsibility to prevent their platform serving as a vehicle for exploitation,” she said.

“This decision is consistent with the spirit of the Irish law prohibiting political campaigns from accepting foreign donations. However, we urgently need to update that law and bring online advertising in line with the regulation of print and broadcast media. I will continue to work with others to deliver this.”

Separately Senator Higgins has also raised concerns about potential loopholes in the Data Protection Bill which could be exploited by companies similar to Cambridge Analytica.

“It is important that we get this right and address any potential loopholes which could serve to undermine data protection or the democratic process,” she added.

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