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Transparent Referendum Initiative Project

In May 2018, Ireland will hold a referendum on whether or not to repeal the 8th amendment of the Constitution, a provision that currently restricts access to abortion. The Transparent Referendum Initiative ( believes that the referendum process should allow for an open, truthful and respectful debate.

The TRI seeks to increase the transparency of paid, online advertising during the referendum campaign. Social media ads can be highly targeted based on a person's location demographics and interests, and can influence voter behaviour. Sometimes social media can also contain factually incorrect information or content. Yet at the moment they are invisible to everyone except the recipient, the platform, and the person who pays.

This makes it difficult for journalists, campaigns and regulators to carry out the important work of making sure referendums are fair: fact-­‐checking, countering misinformation and identifying where campaign financing laws are being contravened. The TRI will not take a position on the debate, but rather are working to identify ways to bring these ads out into the open.

The research group Dynamics Lab-­‐Centre for Computational Social Science at the UCD Geary Institute for Public Policy is the research partner for TRI on this project. The UCD Dynamics Lab aims to provides professional and impartial support for this project and seeks to uphold the highest research standards in this initiative.

The UCD Dynamics Lab-­‐Centre for Computational Social Science will assist with

  • Literature and documentation review

  • Data filtering; the process for sorting political ads from regular commercial ones, and data cleaning

  • Data analysis –both quantitative and qualitative textual analysis

  • Preparation of regular short reports for TRI

  • Dissemination of research findings through academic research workshops, public seminars and peer-­‐reviewed publications.

The following members of the UCD Dynamics Lab – Centre for Computational Social Science are working in collaboration with TRI on this research project.

Associate Professor Diane Payne ( University College Dublin

Killian Mc Loughlin (­‐ University College Dublin