Just weeks from Ireland’s referendum on whether to keep constitutional protections for the unborn, international tech giants Google and Facebook weighed in on the conversation by banning ads targeting voters.
Ireland’s vote on May 25 will decide whether or not to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the largely Catholic country’s constitution, which gives the unborn the same right to life as everyone else. Google and Facebook claim their decisions are designed to level the playing field.
Abortion advocates are cheering the move, while pro-lifers call it an attempt to sway the election in favor of repeal.
Facebook on Tuesday unveiled a plan to ban foreign-based advertising about the referendum. “Our goal is simple: to help ensure a free, fair, and transparent vote on this important issue,” the company said. Shortly afterward, Google banned all ads targeting amendment voters.
Kathy Sinnott, a former member of the European Parliament and Irish pro-life activist, told me social media advertisements in the last weeks before the referendum “would have been crucial” to pro-life efforts. While repeal advocates are leading in polls, pro-lifers have started to see some hard-won results.
“Support for yes has been steadily falling, and it is admitted by all that the undecideds and soft yes voters will decide the referendum,” she said. “If these voters hear the pro-life arguments and in particular they discover that abortion kills babies, and that it is a cruel and painful death, and that most abortions are not done in hard case situations, the yes vote will slip more and the gap will close and the Eighth Amendment will be retained. [It] is something that many politicians, international elite, and others don’t want.”
Pro-life advocates credit months of rallying, knocking on doors, fasting, and praying for closing the gap between those who want to repeal the amendment and those who want to protect the unborn.
Pro-life activist Robert Nugent, who manages a Facebook page supporting the campaign to retain the Eighth Amendment, described grassroots pro-life work as fighting an uphill battle. The media, he and others told me, constantly blares a pro-abortion message.
Support for keeping the Eighth Amendment has remained around 70 percent outside highly populated Dublin, but only 40 to 45 percent in the city. “For sure we can win, but we have to battle the media,” he said.
Both Google and Facebook have international headquarters in Dublin. While the ban on ads could be related to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, pro-life advocates question the companies’ claim of neutrality.
Jor-El Godsey, president of the pro-life group Heartbeat International, called the decision “unfortunate.”
“Really what you have is big boys weighing in on the conversation against a small group of pro-lifers—that are doing many other things—and now having to battle this big giant constitutional change in Ireland,” he said.
Godsey admitted the tech companies could just be trying to prevent “meddlesome foreign advertising.” But banning certain kinds of ads doesn’t bode well for the future, he insisted.
“At some point, is this Google and Facebook colluding to do something?” he asked. “That’s a bit Orwellian in my mind.”