Facebook Accidentally Suppresses Post By Planned Parenthood, Post Reinstated

Facebook is continuing to struggle with abortion information after it accidentally restricted a post by Planned Parenthood.

The overturning of Roe v Wade back in June sent shockwaves not just in the US legal community, but also throughout the world as well. For many observers, this represented one of the biggest backslides in human rights in the US ever.

On the surface, the abortion debate seems like an entire world away from digital rights, what became clear in the aftermath is the fact that the breakdown of a woman’s right to choose directly impacted digital rights as well. We saw video’s surface guiding people to help better protect themselves in the online environment as one of the biggest early signs that things were going to go sideways in a hurry.

Of course, another fear is the fear of censorship – and that happened pretty quickly. In July, posts about abortion medication began getting censored on Facebook and Instagram. In August, we brought you the story about how Facebook handed over personal information about a woman seeking an “illegal abortion” after receiving a court order. Coincidentally, Facebook was also beginning to test end-to-end encryption at the time as well.

Now, in a recent report, it seems that Facebook caught flack for suppressing a post about abortion medication. This time, the post was made by Planned Parenthood of Michigan. From Vice:

Facebook restricted a post from Planned Parenthood of Michigan which contained factual information on abortion pills and which also included a link to an article on where to obtain abortion pills online. Abortion is legal in Michigan.

The post itself read “A medication abortion is a nonsurgical option for ending a pregnancy in the first trimester. Approved by the FDA for use up to roughly 10 weeks of pregnancy, these medications are highly effective with little risk of serious side effects.” The post added that Planned Parenthood of Michigan was proud to offer medication abortion to qualtifying patients, and provided a link to an article on health.com that provided more information.

The restriction meant that only people who manage Planned Parenthood of Michigan’s Facebook page, and not the wider public, could view the post, according to a screenshot tweeted Thursday by Ashlea Phenicie, who works on communications for Planned Parenthood of Michigan.

Facebook told Motherboard that the post was restricted by mistake. Facebook’s policies do allow users to discuss the affordability and accessibility of pharmaceutical drugs, Facebook added.

The article goes on to explain that Facebook has since allowed that post to be readable by the public.

While it is easy to simply say that this is entirely Facebook’s fault (after all, this does, on the surface, showcase a pattern), it all comes back to the original overturning of Roe v Wade decision. Had that overturn not happened, the debate would either be very different or wouldn’t even be happening at all. The problem is that Facebook, in this case, is dealing with circumstances that is clearly far outside of their control.

Making matters even worse is that the laws are different from state to state. Just because one thing is legal in one state doesn’t necessarily mean it is legal to do in another state. At some point, you have to wonder if there needs to be some sort of massive map of the United States with the different things that are allowed from one state to another hanging somewhere on a giant blank wall just to keep track of it all (or maybe just a spreadsheet hanging around on a shared drive). The complexities of it all is already pretty bad and it’s going to get progressively worse as the days and weeks pass by.

Because of that added complexity of what state allows what, it’s hard to see how these problems won’t keep cropping up from time to time. After all, Facebook, in dealing with moderation decisions on this topic, was dealt a pretty crummy hand to begin with. While there are plenty of things to point to about Facebook and say that they are a horrible platform because of it, this is certainly not one of those things.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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