At Least 6 Abortion Groups Say They’re Getting Suspended or Flagged by Tech Companies

It's been two years since Dobbs and social media companies continue to misapply content moderation guidelines to abortion rights organizations—all while dangerous anti-abortion misinformation goes unchecked.

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At Least 6 Abortion Groups Say They’re Getting Suspended or Flagged by Tech Companies

In the two years since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the legal landscape around abortion is shifting almost constantly—and if you’re not an expert in law or policy, it’s hard to keep up. Amid all the confusion, access to online information, resources, and abortion pills via telemedicine has become indispensable. However, according to a new report by Amnesty International published on Tuesday, social media companies and search engines are misapplying content moderation guidelines to police organizations that offer abortion resources. This is especially detrimental as platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok have increasingly become a go-to source for information, particularly, the report emphasizes, for young people.

According to Amnesty International, in the last two years, at least six organizations that promote or offer abortion services or information have seen their social media accounts suspended or severely moderated by TikTok and Meta, the owner of Instagram and Facebook. Meanwhile, these same companies often allow dangerous anti-abortion misinformation, while search engines like Google have enabled anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers to pose as abortion clinics on search engines.

Among the organizations that have seen their accounts taken down—and sometimes restored but then taken down again—Hey Jane, a telemedicine abortion service, has been suspended by TikTok four times. The social media company doesn’t offer explanations for these suspensions and declined to comment for the New York Times. Ipas, an abortion rights nonprofit, shared the World Health Organization’s guidelines for safely completing a medication abortion last year, and the post was removed for violating Meta’s policy on the “sale of regulated goods or services.” Mayday Health, which helps people navigate accessing abortion pills, has been suspended several times from Instagram since 2022 and was told at one point that its account violated Instagram’s guidelines for posting about “guns, drugs and other restricted goods.”

 

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Meta acknowledged that those actions against Ipas and Mayday Health were made in error. According to Amnesty International’s report, disciplinary actions like this—suspensions, removal of posts—are often the result of errors and misapplication of community guidelines. Posts about abortion are more likely to be flagged as inappropriate, even when companies like Meta will ultimately concede that no violation has occurred upon reviewing the content in question. But by then, advocates say the damage is already done.

Rebecca Davis, who leads Hey Jane’s brand marketing, told the Times that TikTok eventually told her that the organization’s “suspension was due to ‘over-moderation’ of their policy surrounding prescription drugs and it should not have been removed.” But “that’s pretty much all they can say—just that it was a mistake and they will try their best to not have it happen again.” Olivia Raisner, executive director of Mayday Health, told the outlet she fears that “for every day our accounts are down, there are fewer people in states with bans who don’t get information about how to get pills.”

But it’s not just learning where to access abortion pills. Just last week, a new report by the National Domestic Violence Hotline showed that abusive partners are weaponizing confusion about abortion laws to threaten to call the police on or sue their victims, even though all active abortion bans only criminalize the provider. There’s also the threat of being misdirected to a fake abortion clinic: Per the Times, Aid Access, an international group that legally sends abortion pills to all 50 states, was incorrectly flagged as unsafe by Bing’s search engine for months before the error was finally fixed in May. By contrast, crisis pregnancy centers, which have increasingly become a surveillance apparatus for anti-abortion groups, can readily advertise on and draw abortion seekers from search engines; their websites sometimes push lies that abortion can cause infertility and breast cancer, all while collecting extensive, personal data from potential abortion seekers at a time of growing legal risk.

 

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In a statement shared with the Times, a spokesperson for Meta said the company strives for its social platforms to be “a place where people can access reliable information about health services, advertisers can promote health services and everyone can discuss and debate public policies in this space.” But abortion advocacy and resource groups have been reporting issues and double standards for some time. Back in 2021, I spoke to a research analyst at Reproaction who said the group’s posts that include keywords like “misoprostol” and “mifepristone” (abortion-inducing medications) are restricted by platforms like Facebook and Instagram. A search for ​​misoprostol on Instagram would yield the warning, “Recent posts for #misoprostol are hidden because some posts may not follow Instagram’s Community Guidelines.” Meanwhile, paid ads from anti-abortion activists about “abortion pill reversal” (a medically unproven, unsafe regimen that anti-abortion activists claim can stop a medication abortion underway) are available on the same platform yet seem to evade these types of “content warning” flags.

Mailman also pointed to how Facebook allowed Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) to run campaign ads lying that Planned Parenthood sells baby parts, all while Reproaction couldn’t make posts about medication abortion. Elisa Wells, co-founder and co-director of Plan C Pills, which helps people get information and access to abortion pills online, previously told Jezebel that in addition to their posts on abortion pills being flagged and removed “a number of times,” the organization’s Facebook page “mysteriously shut down” at one point, too.

The targeted policing of abortion-related online content has always functioned as a serious barrier and a thorn in the side of organizations trying to educate people about their options. But two years after Dobbs, as states continue to pass confusing bans and CPCs can seemingly advertise whatever they want, the implications of problematic digital moderation are greater than ever.

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