Repeal and the online battle - when become a billionaire isn't an option


Over the last few days the mainstream media in Ireland has finally woken up to the way money from far right US evangelicals is being used to buy the No vote in the referendum campaign. Here we show you how to see how you are being targeted and discuss what this means for the referendum and any conception of democracy not based on the ‘one dollar, one vote’ favoured by the elite.

The story breaking in mainstream media scares the No campaigns, their initial reaction was to try and bully the media by announcing they would no longer talk to to the first outlet to seriously break this story, the Times Ireland edition. This Trump like tactic tells us a lot about the elitist attitude of those running the No campaign, people used to using their power to get their own way and enraged when this is called out.

But first an explainer on how you can see how you were targeted for a particular ad here on Facebook. When you see an ad click on the three grey dots on the top right corner. From the menu that then appears choice ‘Why am I seeing this’. Facebook will then give you some rather limited information as to targeting.

The example we choose here comes across our feed this morning. You’ll note its an ad by a fundamentalist religious organisation which runs counter to the dishonest ‘It’s not about religion’ messaging of the No campaigns. Which is why the targeting matters here, they paid to just show this ad to people who are ‘interested in anti-abortion movements’. We weren’t meant to see this ad. With Trump and Brexit this sort of targeting was used to display racist messages to racist voters but without the vote losing cost of people who might be shocked by such messaging seeing those ads. This sort of targeting allows hate to be used by a campaign without the usual cost that being seen to spread hate would come with.

e estimate the No campaign has spent millions on online advertising. Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty International tweeted this morning that the knew of a single No youtube channel that was spending 3,000 euro per day on pushing ads. Much of this is coming from groups like ‘White Flag Movement’ who are not registered with SIPO and are probably serving as channels for US dollars to swing the referendum to no. SIPO is a joke - not even 10% of the No spend visible to SIPO due to non-registration and channelling spend though unregistered groups that control groups that have registered for PR reasons.

Facebook has been having a terrible PR problem recently because of its role in Brexit and Trump and in particular the revelations about Cambridge Analytica. As usual Facebooks response is to pretend to do something and a few minutes ago Facebook said it would “begin rejecting ads from foreign groups seeking to influence the referendum on the Eighth Amendment.” This will make things slightly more complex for the US dollars, which is no bad thing, but its easy enough to get around by transferring the money to anyone resident here. And Facebook is only one aspect of the problem, Youtube and children games have also been bombarded with Vote No ads.

Some social media commentators have been l suggesting on Twitter that the Yes campaign needs to fundraise so it can outspend No. This is naive and based on a lack of understanding that while Yes is dependent on pub quiz and online fundraisers, which are SIPO compliant, the No side has been accepting huge amounts of US money for years. Far right US evangelicals see Ireland as crusade to control women that they can win and have been pumping money in for decades, at least since 1992. They have got better at covering their tracks but there is still so much money being pumped in that years before the referendum was called that cash was paying for offices and multiple full time workers. Several core Irish anti-choice campaigners have well paid life long careers off the back of those US dollars.

This means the No side have money to burn and they are burning it, spraying advertising onto every available platform be that offline in the form of posters, advertising hoardings and expensive newspaper ads. Or online by clogging up every available channel from Youtube to Instagram with often misleading No messaging.

The key point to understand before examining what can be done is that fundraising ability isn’t symmetrical. The willingness to run rings around SIPO to bring in huge US evangelical & far right funds means No can’t be competed with in the online auctions that determine which ads are shown. Together for Yes can not and should not attempt to wage symmetrical warfare though desperate plans for more funds to outbid No. The No campaign - and the social media companies running the ad auctions - would win that battle.

This was an expected problem, one we have written about for over a year when the first massive anti-choice ad spend came to attack #Strike4Repeal. It appears the Together for Yes response is to focus on volunteer based activity like canvassing where they have the advantage of having far more willing volunteers. With their being no ‘become a billionaire’ option this asymmetrical response to the huge wealth of the No side may be the best one available.

A plan to raise equivalent amounts of cash under such conditions may only serve to demoralize already overworked volunteers. Indeed the successful Together for Yes online poster fundraiser illustrates scale of problem as the 550k raised hardly scratched the problem that No could spend so much as to have a poster on every poll and hundreds of advertising hoardings.

Cash has always bought elections & referenda, indeed this along with capitalist ownership of the media is the basis of parliamentary democracy. It’s why we are governed by parties that represent landlords, minimum wage employers & the tax dodging millionaires & multinationals when most of us are know of these things. It’s a hard system to beat on its own rules which is why anarchists steer clear of elections if not referenda.

We are not arguing against any spend on online advertising, just that limited resources means what Together for Yes spends will need to be strategic and targeted rather than the No firehose of ‘every man in Ireland’ approach. The celebratory based ad of recent days make sense in this context because the celebratory presence means that unpaid ‘organic’ reach will substitute for the paid reach of the No campaign. Amnesty and TMFR are both running crowdfunded appeals at the moment to run their own online advertising campaigns.

But a final ‘things to do’ note to end on is that you should simply make sure you engage with any useful pro-choice content you see. Simply liking such a post will be worth between one and and ten euros in paid promotion because your like will get it seen by additional people. And sharing and commenting on posts is more powerful again. Even if you are house or office bound and unable to canvass, poster or leaflet simply engaging with posts in that manner will contribute to a Yes victory. For sure its clicktivism but when connected to offline organising even clicktivism has a role to play and come May 26th every vote will be counted.