Facebook and Instagram Censoring Posts Offering Abortion Pills

Reports have surfaced saying that Facebook and Instagram are now censoring posts offering abortion pills or advice on how to get them.

Late last month, civil rights in the US began a massive backsliding with the overturning of Roe v Wade. While the ruling, brought on by conservative activist judges who have turned the court into a political body and threw out the rule of law, directly impacts women’s rights and abortion, the implications would be much more wide ranging. As we alluded to in our article, the ruling will, among other things, reshape the debate surrounding privacy as well as increase the necessity of encryption. Digital rights organization, the electronic Frontier Foundation, posted a video helping women navigate the fact that they have become second class citizens overnight as well.

Of course, despite the huge amount of ground we covered here, the implications are still being discovered. Free speech is another major issue that this political ruling could impact. This is something we alluded to when the initial papers about this forthcoming decision originally leaked back in May. More recently, it seems that the free speech issues have already begun. Facebook and Instagram have apparently begun mass censoring posts talking about abortion pills or offering methods of obtaining them. From CBS:

Memes and status updates explaining how women could legally obtain abortion pills in the mail exploded across social platforms. Some even offered to mail the prescriptions to women living in states that now ban the procedure.

Almost immediately, Facebook and Instagram began removing some of these posts, just as millions across the U.S. were searching for clarity around abortion access. General mentions of abortion pills, as well as posts mentioning specific versions such as mifepristone and misoprostol, suddenly spiked Friday morning across Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and TV broadcasts, according to an analysis by the media intelligence firm Zignal Labs.

By Sunday, Zignal had counted more than 250,000 such mentions.

The AP obtained a screenshot on Friday of one Instagram post from a woman who offered to purchase or forward abortion pills through the mail, minutes after the court ruled to overturn the constitutional right to an abortion.

“DM me if you want to order abortion pills, but want them sent to my address instead of yours,” the post on Instagram read.

Instagram took it down within moments. Vice Media first reported on Monday that Meta, the parent of both Facebook and Instagram, was taking down posts about abortion pills.

On Monday, an AP reporter tested how the company would respond to a similar post on Facebook, writing: “If you send me your address, I will mail you abortion pills.”

The post was removed within one minute.

The Facebook account was immediately put on a “warning” status for the post, which Facebook said violated its standards on “guns, animals and other regulated goods.”

Yet, when the AP reporter made the same exact post but swapped out the words “abortion pills” for “a gun,” the post remained untouched. A post with the same exact offer to mail “weed” was also left up and not considered a violation.

Under normal circumstances (like we have experienced “normal” for the last several years), Facebook would have caught a heck of a lot of flack for such selective censorship. However, it’s pretty tricky to blame Meta for these moves. After all, it is a business decision in response to the changing legal landscape. Would you, as a business, take on potential liability for something as “minor” as abortion medication? Most wouldn’t despite the human rights implications.

Of course, there is a very real problem in all of this. If legal information about such medication is not permitted on platforms anymore, that will only push such exchanges to more underground markets. That alone will raise a number of serious health questions. If such medication was obtained through a sketchy third party post on a third party site, how would people know that such medication isn’t somehow counterfeit? There are a lot of problems that will inevitably arise from such a situation. Yes, women could go to a pharmacist instead, but given the tense air some women would face, it can cause some to be worried about going to a pharmacist in the first place. How to they know the pharmacist won’t report them? How do they know that the building in question isn’t somehow monitored? You really can’t blame some women from thinking these things.

Mixed in all of this is how freedom of expression is actively being threatened in all of this. If someone in the medical field offers medical advice to someone who is scared, are they going to be banned from the platform as a result? It’s not a Meta issue, but rather, a legal issue. What’s more is that the consequences of this backslide in human rights is only going to become more real in the weeks and months ahead. It’s a huge mess that doesn’t seem to exhibit any signs of letting up. If a lot more damage occurs because of this ruling, it really wouldn’t be a surprise.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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