What is TRI?
The Transparent Referendum Initiative (TRI) is a voluntary initiative aimed at enabling an open, truthful and respectful debate during the referendum on the 8th amendment, by bringing paid social media ads out into the open.
TRI will build a public, searchable database of political ads being targeted at Irish voters related to the referendum, and information on the social media accounts that are promoting them. This will enable journalists, fact-checkers and members of the public to scrutinise this content, that they otherwise would not be able to see.
Why does this matter?
Social media ads can be highly targeted based on a person’s location, demographics and interests, and can influence voter behaviour. Yet at the moment they are invisible to everyone except the targeted voter, the platform and the person who pays.
Increased transparency of these ads is especially important as they are not covered by Irish electoral law. Social media platforms provide a loophole through which foreign actors can exert influence in Irish referendums. While the law prevents foreign donations to official campaigns, spending on social media advertising – including from overseas – is unregulated.
How will this work?
We know that the platforms care about fixing this issue, so TRI are hoping they make available in Ireland transparency tools being developing for the 2018 US elections. If this isn’t possible, we will launch crowdsourcing tools on open data day, the 3rd of March.
Who is behind this project?
The Transparent Referendum Initiative (TRI) is run by volunteers (see below) and not in receipt of any external funding.
Liz Carolan – a Transparency Specialist. Liz has been working on transparency, data and governance projects for 10 years including for the World Bank, the Open Data Institute, and elections think tank International IDEA.
Craig Dwyer – a Social Media Specialist. Craig was the Social Media Director for Yes Equality during the 2015 Marriage Equality Referendum and is about to launch a resource on social media for progressive movements.
With special thanks to Peter Tanham, ad technology expert, who helped get this project off the ground.
What is your position on the referendum on the 8th amendment?
As a group we will not take a position on the 8th amendment referendum, but rather will work to provide the online conditions for a truthful, respectful and open discussion on by working to make sure information being promoted is open to scrutiny.
The volunteers on this project will hold personal views on this and any future referendums we work on. We understand that the success of this project rests on ensuring that any database connected with the project can be trusted by voters.
We are looking at a mixture of transparency on any methods, processes, filters etc. that are used in data collection and sharing, and on partnerships with outside institutions who can host any database, or provide scrutiny of our processes (we welcome feedback and advice in this regard!)
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