Campaigners warn of ‘rigged referendum’ after Google decision

Niamh Uí Bhriain explains why Google’s decision is a serious threat to the referendum process



The three leading pro-life groups campaigning for the retention of Ireland’s constitutional protection for the unborn have called on Google to reconsider its decision to block all advertising in connection with the upcoming referendum.

Speaking at a press conference in Dublin this afternoon, the Pro Life Campaign, Save the 8th and the Iona Institute joined forces to reject Google’s claim that the decision related to “concerns about the integrity of elections”, and said it was driven by concerns that the ‘No’ side might win the May 25 poll.

They described this as “scandalous” and “an attempt to rig the referendum”.

Save the 8th spokesperson John McGuirk drew a sharp distinction between Google’s decision and that of Facebook, which has opted to block advertising from foreign sources but not domestic ones. Welcoming Facebook’s decision, he said Google’s decision to block both foreign and domestic advertising had been taken because the Yes campaign fears it is losing and wants to limit information for voters.

In a joint statement, the three groups, which together claim to be responsible for 99% of all pro-life campaigning in the referendum, said: “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.”

“In this case,” they continued, “it means preventing campaigns that have done nothing  illegal from campaigning in a perfectly legal manner.”

Noting how mainstream media is dominated by voices who favour the legalisation of abortion in Ireland, the groups said that online media had provided them with the only platform available to them to speak to voters directly on a large scale.

“That platform is now being undermined, in order to prevent the public from hearing the message of one side.”

Maria Steen of the Iona Institute described the decision as “an attack on the integrity of the referendum”. Maintaining that “it unfairly disadvantages the Retain side more than the Repeal side,” she said it was “a blatant attempt to silence debate in Ireland”.

Together for Yes, in a press release dated yesterday, May 8, has welcomed Google’s decision, claiming that it will “ensure a level playing field between both sides”.