Combating misinformation begins at home
Amnesty International Ireland ‘doesn’t do fake news’. This assertion appears in a video (posted on 4 May), asking viewers for donations to fund an advertising campaign aimed at giving the public ‘facts’ about the upcoming referendum. ‘We need to get real information out there, and we need your help to do that’, says Sorcha Tunney, coordinator of the ‘It’s Time’ campaign, in the video. Another post (2 May) claims, ‘We [Amnesty] don’t do fake news or false information’.
Speaking to Amnesty campaigners on the street in recent months, I have been repeatedly struck by how ill-informed they are about abortion and foetal development, and about the repeal of the 8th Amendment generally. Much of what they have told me is untrue or misleading.
One campaigner defended unlimited abortion up to 12 weeks, on the grounds that there was no heartbeat or brain activity until then. In reality, however, the foetal heartbeat begins 22 and 28 days from fertilisation and brain activity, in the form of primitive electrical waves, at five to six weeks from fertilisation. This same Amnesty campaigner was also in favour of abortion up to 24 weeks in unspecified ‘crisis situations’. When asked why 24 weeks specifically, they replied that it was ‘just something I heard’. They were not sure if they had heard it from Amnesty or from another source. Similarly, another campaigner claimed that their support for abortion access was ethical and science-based, but was ill-informed about the basic facts of foetal development.
When asked if Amnesty was in favour of free abortion in Ireland, one campaigner replied vaguely that it might not be free but it would at least be cheaper. Campaigners were also unsure what gestational limits, if any, were being proposed by their organisation.
The death of Savita Halappanavar is brought up repeatedly by Amnesty campaigners, but they seldom remember her name, as often as not referring to her as ‘the Indian woman’. One campaigner seemed to have confused her with Ms Y, and claimed that Ms Halappanavar was suicidal having become pregnant as a result of rape. Another campaigner, articulating their personal position in favour of abortion access in cases of rape, seemed unclear as to the actual definition of rape, maintaining that blackmailing someone into having sex was not rape.
One campaigner argued against adoption as an alternative to abortion, on the grounds that adopted people – in particular those conceived through rape – would question their identity and self-worth.
So much for ‘getting real information out there’. If Amnesty are genuinely concerned about giving people facts, and facts alone, why are their paid campaigners – the public faces of the organisation – so ill-informed?