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Facebook will block foreign ads on Ireland's abortion referendum

It wants to avoid any obvious interference.
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Niall Carson/PA Images via Getty Images

Facebook has been increasingly stringent about verifying the sources of political ads in its bid to prevent foreign interference, and that's evident in its approach to Ireland. The social network is now refusing any foreign ads about Ireland's Eighth Amendment referendum concerning abortion rights -- if the organization isn't based in the Emerald Isle, it won't get a say ahead of the May 25th vote. It's not a complete ban, as Facebook will allow Irish campaigns to use foreign service providers, but it should reduce the likelihood of conspicuous manipulation.

Facebook is relying on both local organizations (such as political parties, groups on either side and the Transparent Referendum Initiative) and integrity-focused machine learning to police ads. The company has promised eventual anti-interference tools that include a "verification process," but those aren't completely ready. The moratorium on foreign ads will act as if those tools are in place today, Facebook said.

The Irish referendum could be a litmus test for Facebook's ability to curb electoral interference going forward, especially in the American mid-term elections this November. The tech giant wants to show that the dark days of Russian meddling are over, both to protect its reputation and to head off regulations that might dictate more of the content it allows. If it works, Facebook might gain (or regain) the trust of those convinced it's being used as a political pawn.

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