By Dan Calabrese
I’m not sure when putting across your point of view became “interfering,” but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about the times we live in, it’s that there’s no contortion of the language that can’t gain acceptance if you push it hard enough.
On May 25, Ireland is having a referendum to possibly repeal the nation’s strict anti-abortion laws. As you might imagine, people from all over the place have strong feelings about it and when to express their point of view. But good luck using Facebook or Google to do that. They’ve deemed this “interference” in the vote, and they’re not going to allow it:
The referendum in the predominantly Roman Catholic country will be among the first tests of new policies by Facebook and Google to address concerns about election meddling raised by the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.
This month, Facebook announced it will block ads on the referendum that do not originate from advertisers in Ireland. CEO Mark Zuckerberg is vowing to have tighter restrictions on data that can influence politics.
A day after Facebook’s announcement, Google said it would suspend all ads related to the referendum until after the vote.
“Following our update around election integrity efforts globally, we have decided to pause all ads related to the Irish referendum on the Eighth Amendment,” Google said in a statement.
I’m starting to wonder if Facebook and Google really understand how this whole advertising thing works.
Neither platform charges users to have accounts or use the site’s primary functions. It’s free to have a Facebook profile, or to send and receive messages on Facebook Messenger, or to use Gmail or the Google search engine. The platforms monetize their massive database of free memberships by providing advertisers with the opportunity to reach these members with their messages.
This seems pretty basic, I know, hardly even necessary to explain. But somewhere along the line, Facebook and Google got the idea that attempting to influence someone is “interference,” whatever that means. Obviously this started with the whole nonsense about Russia “interfering” in the U.S. election by buying ads and presumably posting fake news stories on social media. But even if Russia was doing all that, “interference” is a weird word to use in describing it. Trying to convince people of an idea or a message is not “interference.” It’s just trying to make a point. It can be done in dishonest or disingenuous ways, but in case you haven’t noticed, mainstream media and politicians are guilty of the same thing every day.
Facebook is allowing ads about the referendum if they’re bought by Irish advertisers, whereas Google is allowing none at all. I guess Facebook figures a non-Irish person trying to influence the referendum is “interfering” in Ireland’s business, although one might say the fate of unborn children is a concern for people everywhere. (Would Facebook object to people from America opining about Durfur? I didn’t think so.) Google’s position is even more illogical, as if anyone who expresses an opinion is “interfering” with someone’s thought process in deciding how to vote.
It’s not a threat to “election integrity” when people have a voice in how the vote should turn out. It’s an inherent and crucial part of the process.
Those who oppose the referendum (the anti-abortion side) seem most upset about the Facebook and Google decisions, which seems to indicate they feel a greater urgency to get their message out. Do with that what you will. But in the meantime, someone probably needs to explain to Facebook and Google that letting people communicate their ideas is not “interference” with anything but free speech.
Also, this is an awfully strange business decision for both platforms, but that’s simply been the pattern lately so maybe that’s the least surprising thing of all here.
Dan writes Christian spiritual warfare novels and does all kinds of other weird things too. Follow all his activity by liking him on Facebook!