Cover page of the Irish Government report published today — available here

In a report published today, the Government acknowledged that online platforms present the highest level of risk to our electoral processes, a recognition that the Transparent Referendum Initiative welcomes. This follows the inclusion yesterday of the “impact of social media on public debate” in the national risk assessment, alongside other major risks to Ireland’s stability that need to be mitigated. In both instances the Government acknowledge that the lack of regulatory oversight of these activities needs to be addressed.

It is, however, disappointing that the actions proposed in today’s report fall short of what is needed to respond to an…


We are excited to announce an event we will be hosting on June 19th in Dublin’s Wood Quay Venue, with UK Electoral Commission Chief Exec Claire Bassett, and TRI co-founder Liz Carolan.

Places are limited: sign up here

Digital Threats to Democracy: Learning from #Brexit & #8thRef

With Claire Bassett, Chief Executive, UK Electoral Commission
Liz Carolan, co-founder, Transparent Referendum Initiative
Hugh Linehan, Irish Times Arts & Culture Editor and host of the Inside Politics podcast
And others TBC

The Brexit referendum was arguably the first time the full extent of the threat posed to democracy by digital advertising became known to the world. As Chief Executive of the UK’s ElectoralCommission, Claire Bassett will share her thoughts on what the Commission has learned two years on, and what it might mean for how elections and referendums are managed.

During the recent…


By Liz Carolan

Today Facebook is launching a new transparency tool in Ireland — the “View Ads” feature they have been testing in Canada. Ireland is only the second country where this tool is being rolled out, and any proactive step taken to improve transparency is very welcome. However it has serious limitations, and those limitations highlight some of the major features of the social media campaigning we are seeing right now in Ireland.

The tool will allow any Irish Facebook user to see ads that any one page is showing in Ireland. A user can go to a page…


Visit www.tref.ie to find out more about our project

By Liz Carolan

Quite a few people have been in touch with me over the last few days about the Cambridge Analytica story, wondering if the same thing could happen here in Ireland. Some are citing the revelation that at least one Irish campaign has hired a related company for the referendum on the 8th amendment.

In case you’ve missed the story over the bank holiday weekend because you were having all the craic and not reading the Observer cover to cover; a) fair play, I’m not at ALL envious and b) here’s an explainer in The Journal.

So, could…


By Liz Carolan

I’ve done a bit of analysis the latest batch of social media ads we collected related to the upcoming Irish referendum on abortion. This is the first of 3 short blogs we’ll be putting out in the coming days, this time sharing an insight into the difference paying for reach can make.

A tale of two posts

Two identical posts (same photos, wording, hashtags etc.) were uploaded by the owner of a Facebook page within a month of each other. On the latter occasion, the owners paid Facebook to promote it. …


***Today we are reaching out to the main campaign groups to ask them to support our efforts for a fair, open and honest referendum debate. We asked them to share this letter with their members. Feel free to share it with any networks you have too.***

Hi there,

As the campaign on the referendum on the eighth amendment draws closer, questions have been raised about the potential presence and influence of dark ads on social media that target Irish voters.

In light of this, the Transparent Referendum Initiative (TRI) has launched to increase the transparency of paid, social media advertising…


A still from our video explaining how to get involved in TRI — see www.tref.ie/get-involved

By Liz Carolan

A few weeks ago we wrote about the challenges we faced in trying to build a database of social media political ads for the referendum on the 8th amendment. This database is now up and running — www.tref.ie/database

We said Plan A was collaboration with the platforms. Unfortunately, they are not in a position to do this. So we are using Plan B: crowdsourcing.

We have a partnership with Who Targets Me, a UK based group of volunteers. They have built a tool that enables crowdsourcing of all the ads shown to Facebook users who install the…


By Liz Carolan

A statement caught my eye today, attributed to Richard Oakley, editor of the The Times Ireland Edition.

He (Oakley) insisted the Facebook posts were promoted articles, not ads. (Irish Independent)

I’ll come back to what “the Facebook posts” were in a moment, but I want to focus in on the distinction being made here between promoted articles and ads. This may be a paraphrased statement, but it isn’t the first time I’ve come across it, and to me it is the wrong distinction.

What matters more in the context of social media is whether paid content is…


Finding balance, by woodleywonderworks https://www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/9533293701

By Liz Carolan, TRI’s volunteer transparency specialist.

This is the first is a series of blogs we’ll publish on the questions we are working on.

My fellow volunteers and I are launching the Transparent Referendum Initiative with

  • an analysis of a problem: that the lack of transparency in online political ads is a danger to having a fair, open and honest debate in the upcoming Irish referendum on abortion
  • a goal we want to achieve: to build an open, searchable database that bring these ads out into the public so journalists and citizens can scrutinise them

BUT we still have…


Senator Blumenthal shows a widely circulated tweet from the 2016 US presidential election showing comedian Aziz Ansari holding a Photoshopped sign claiming Americans could vote from home, during the Senate Judiciary subcommittee questioning of social media executives in 2017 see: https://www.wired.com/story/congress-asks-tech-to-face-hard-truths-about-russian-meddling/

So we at Team TRI have become slightly obsessive followers of new reports and stories on online political ads, and we thought we would pull together a reading list of the stuff we have found interesting.

This list will evolve and grow over time — let us know what we are missing and we will add to it. Tweet at us or drop a link in a comment below.

Cool projects to keep an eye on:

On regulation:

Transparent Referendum Initiative

TRI aims to enable an open and honest #8thRef debate, through transparency and scrutiny of targeted, paid political ads on social media.

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