Facebook's reputation among forward-thinking users has been suffering of late, what with many of them finally deciding to #DeleteFacebook following the Cambridge Analytica scandal and ongoing criticism that the company hasn't been doing enough to protect the integrity of elections and referendums around the world.
The announcement comes just two weeks after concerns were raised that foreign-funded campaigns, including US religious and political groups, were attempting to influence the outcome.
"Concerns have been raised about organisations and individuals based outside of Ireland trying to influence the outcome of the referendum on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of Ireland by buying ads on Facebook," the company said, adding it was "an issue [Facebook had] been thinking about for some time".
"Today, 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 it believed "the spirit of this approach [was] also consistent with Irish electoral law that prohibits campaigns from accepting foreign donations."
The referendum, due to take place in just over two weeks' time, could repeal the country's strict abortion laws, which prohibit the vast majority of terminations, including in cases of rape or incest.
Facebook said it would rely on the help of political parties and campaigners on both sides of the campaign to notify the company if they had "concerns about ad campaigns" they saw online. "We will also be using machine learning to help us with this effort to identify ads that should no longer be running," Facebook added.
It's obviously not a bad thing facebook are banning people from outside Ireland spending money on ads for the referendum but surely this could and should have been done months ago? Bit stable door and bolted horse at this stage.— Sinéad Redmond (@sineadredmond) May 8, 2018
Gavin Sheridan, an Irish social media expert who has been watching the referendum campaign unfold online, told the Guardian that Facebook was "always late to the party". "They were late with Russian interference in the US election … All their announcements seem designed to stave off regulation, and for me it boils down to do we allow them to self-regulate, or do we regulate ourselves."
There is also a gaping loophole in that foreign organisations seeking to influence the result could still give financial backing to groups already based in Ireland.
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