Welcome to Issue One of The Briefing! I said I'd be brief, so I'm diving right in.

We are voting in 2 referendums next week, so let's kick off with a snapshot of Irish online political ads.

Energy for the referendum both off and online is low. Irish Times polling a few weeks ago found over half of voters knew "hardly anything at all" about the votes.

Source: Irish Time polling with Ipsos B&A - see article

However in the last 2 weeks ads have started to appear advocating for an outcome. On Meta platforms, I found two ads each from Fianna Fáil and the Greens, and one from the Fine Gael, all advocating a Yes/Yes. Meanwhile issue group "Family & Life" were advertising a webinar about "problems with the wording". None are spending more than a few hundred Euro.*

There has, however, been a big push by the Electoral Commission on voter registration. Since January the Commission has spent €12,500 on Meta ads to fulfil its new mandate to inform voters. This is exciting for the democracy minded among us - if startlingly that this is the first time a national institution has held this responsibility. I have also spotted quite a few offline ads too. (See their Meta ads here)

An IRL ad from Ireland's second biggest online "political" advertiser in Jan & Feb

This actually makes the Electoral Commission the second biggest online "political" advertiser in the state at the moment. This is according to analysis from Who Targets Me.

Looking at political party spending since January 1st might give us a sense of how the Locals and Europeans will go. When it comes political ads on Facebook and Instagram, Sinn Fein is outspending other every political party. In fact, at 47% of the total party spend, they are just about outspending all the other parties combined.

Cumulative spend since Jan 1st 2024 by political parties on Meta (Facebook & Instagram) ads, according to the Meta Ad Library. Analysis & visualisation by WhoTargetsMe. This combines estimated spending across all Meta accounts; party, candidate, local account etc.

Again, the figures are still relatively small - in the first two months of year all the parties combined spent less than €60k.

So can we take from this data? And what is Meta ad spend a proxy for anyway in 2024? Does it indicate richer coffers, a more sophisticated campaign strategy, a need to pay for reach, or that a party is interested in a particular demographic?

Sam Jeffers, who runs Who Targets Me and analyses elections around the world, reckons that this is about higher spending parties having a better grasp of modern media fragmentation; "getting on RTE radio or the evening news or doing a local phone in will get you fewer people than it used to, and the parties not using social media in a fairly broad way are missing out."

Either way it is going to be an interesting year. We have yet to see our first case of deceptive generative AI in Irish political campaigning, but it is coming. My prediction is that before June we will see a small player use Gen AI in a blatant way to try get a few column inches.

My other prediction is that with Gen AI rapidly eroding the already pretty poor online information environment, candidates may find a stronger need than ever to knock on doors and meet voters face-to-face, always a part of Irish political life. It will be interesting to see how much online conspiracy world they hear reflected back at them compared to the pre-Covid elections of 2019/20.

* Meta's archive is here. It takes a few search terms to find referendum ads, so I probably missed a few. If you find any send them on. On the other platforms;

  • TikTok don't allow political ads
  • X's ad archive is a mess
  • Google's ad archive is also a bit of a mess - ads "shown in Ireland" is flooded with ads in Polish, Dutch etc. In total €600 has been spend in the first 2 months of the year.

One Irish candidate is advertising on Google (YouTube): PBP candidate Cian Prendiville, who accounts for over half the spend in the archive.

A screenshot of the Google Ad Archive for Jan & Feb 2024

One party is spending as much as all the others combined on political ads