Anti-abortion campaigners have sidestepped Google’s ban on online adverts relating to the referendum in Ireland on Friday, so as to promote their message on popular websites. This May the tech company banned paid messages relating to the referendum from appearing on its services, which dominates many aspects of online advertising. But campaigners have turned to alternative online ad sales platforms to push adverts to Irish readers of news sites. These sites have included the Atlantic, Washington Post and the Guardian, and ads have also been aimed at readers of women’s lifestyle websites and players of mobile games. Some of these ultimately use elements of Google technology to serve the adverts, despite the company’s commitment to pulling out of the referendum.
The development places extra scrutiny on largely unregulated online campaign activity in the contest, which is one of the first significant votes in a western country since the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Last week an Irish Times/Ipsos MORI poll suggested the campaign to repeal Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion had a narrow lead, with 44% supporting repeal, 32% saying they would vote no, 17% still undecided, and the remainder preferring not to say or saying they would not vote.
Both sides have spent heavily on online advertising, capitalising on the power of social media advertising to directly target voters without the message being mediated by traditional news outlets.