Google has banned all advertisements for both sides in the abortion referendum in Ireland.
The ban applies to all sites under the Google brand, including YouTube, and follows Facebook’s decision to ban all adverts relating to the referendum from advertisers outside of Ireland.
The decision has divided commentators. While some have welcomed the move as ensuring a fair debate, others see it as an attempt to rig a referendum that looks increasingly close.
Pat Leahy, political commentator at the Irish Times, wrote:
There has been rising concern among some pro-repeal groups and supporters that the referendum could be swayed in its decisive weeks towards a No vote by an avalanche of online ads.
Facebook’s move is likely to be directly related to this fear: and a fear that if the referendum were defeated, the company would face questions about its role in influencing votes, as it has in the US and UK.
In the past fortnight, there has been a rising sense of pessimism in some repeal quarters that the campaign was slipping away from them. Yesterday, the transparency campaigner Gavin Sheridan tweeted that it was now his view that the No side would win the campaign because its online spending was dwarfing that of the Yes campaign.
In National Review, Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote that although Google’s decision may seem neutral, it will likely do more damage to the pro-life campaign.
“The Repeal side already has overwhelming support in traditional broadcast and print media in Ireland, while the less well-funded campaigns to retain the Eighth Amendment rely on social media.”
In a joint statement, three Irish pro-life groups – The Pro Life Campaign, Save the 8th and the Iona Institute – condemned Google’s move. “It is very clear that the Government, much of the establishment media, and corporate Ireland have determined that anything that needs to be done to secure a ‘Yes’ vote must be done,” they said.
“In this case, it means preventing campaigns that have done nothing illegal from campaigning in a perfectly legal manner.”
The referendum is due to take place on May 25.