Facebook’s decision to ban foreign advertisements which seek to influence the Irish abortion referendum vote on May 25 is an overdue reality check for the social media giant.
It has become apparent in recent weeks that ads mainly from the anti-abortion side have been flooding micro-targeted areas of Ireland in a similar fashion as to what happened during the 2016 US presidential election.
Outside forces with major funding made a huge difference in that campaign but it could be even more pronounced in Ireland. There is a serious threat to the democratic process, by manipulation from outside.
It is time Facebook and Google woke up from their cosseted slumber and downright ignorance about what has been happening worldwide.
There is clear evidence that the Brexit vote in Britain was likely manipulated in the closing days by forces from outside the United Kingdom.
There is nothing more sacred to the future of democracies than the operation of democracy itself.
In this world without borders, the ability to influence elections from outside has severely damaged the faith of the ordinary voter in the democratic process.
In Ireland, a deeply controversial but necessary referendum is taking place to decide, once and for all, the issue of whether any kind of abortion can be allowed.
It is a highly emotive issue, to begin with as both sides are fierce in their arguments.
The notion that the expressed will of the country's electorate could be somehow undermined by Facebook postings seems ridiculous on the face of it.
However, due to their own lax procedures, 87 million names were compromised by Facebook’s lack of security during the US election.
The social network simply cannot make the same mistake again
Together for Yes Campaign Co-Director Smyth pointed out the dangers cogently when she stated: “We welcome news today that Facebook is imposing a ban on foreign ads that have been seeking to influence the Irish vote in this referendum.
"Facebook is the modern-day billboard, and until today, external campaigners had free rein to interfere with and manipulate the conversation Ireland is having around removing the 8th amendment from our Constitution.
“We view this as a clear recognition by Facebook that external forces with vast resources can have disproportionate yet impactful influence in political campaigns. Today’s announcement means the integrity of Ireland’s democratic process will be protected to some extent, and this is therefore a significant step...”
She is right and a clear and present danger exists that the Irish referendum will be deeply tinted if the foreign involvement is not prevented.
We have accepted our loss of privacy in our rush to embrace Facebook. For a very long time, no one thought the Silicon Valley firm was doing anything but good for billions everywhere.
Mark Zuckerberg became a huge celebrity; there was talk of a presidential run but that has quickly ground to a halt.
The malevolent side of Facebook has taken a lot longer to appear but to Irish voters, it is very clear.