Facebook Bans People For Simply Saying Abortion Pills Exist
from the with-friends-like-these... dept
On the one hand, content moderation at the scale modern social media companies operate at is an impossible nightmare. Companies are always going to lack the staff and resources to do it well (raising questions about the dangers of automation at scale), and they’re always going to screw things up for reasons well discussed.
At the same time, there’s Facebook. A company whose executive leadership team often compounds these challenges by making the worst and most idiotic decisions possible at any particular moment.
Case in point: the company appears to have consciously embraced the policy of banning Facebook and Instagram users for saying they might mail abortion pills in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning Roe:
To corroborate this activity, on Friday a Motherboard reporter attempted to post the phrase “abortion pills can be mailed” on Facebook using a burner account. The post was flagged within seconds as violating the site’s community standards, specifically the rules against buying, selling, or exchanging medical or non-medical drugs. The reporter was given the option to “disagree” with the decision or “agree” with it. After they chose “disagree,” the post was removed.
Again, we’re not just talking about blocking websites that actually mail abortion pills. Reporters at Vice’s Motherboard found that even publicly acknowledging that abortion pills exist and could be mailed resulted in an account ban:
Other reporters have confirmed the changes. Facebook refuses to reverse the bans or even respond to reporter inquiries into the policy, which are consciously bad choices, not content moderation at scale problems.
The company’s systems claim that even mentioning that these pills exist violates its community standards related to “restricted goods and services.” Yet when other reporters made similar posts promising to mail marijuana or guns, there were no restrictions:
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. Marijuana is illegal under federal law and it is illegal to send it through the mail.
Activist groups like Fight For the Future were decidedly unimpressed, saying the policy foretold uglier things to come as the far right continues to push its court-enabled advantage:
Facebook’s censorship of critical reproductive healthcare information and advocacy should be a massive, code-red warning to Democrats who want to revise or repeal Section 230. In a post-Roe environment, litigation-fearing platforms will cover their hides by tearing down online access to abortion healthcare and support.
Facebook, no stranger to sucking up to and amplifying the authoritarian right, has also tried to restrict employees from talking about abortion bans at work, triggering a backlash. The company is also finding itself under fire after it classified one prominent pro-choice activism group a terrorist organization.
Countless tech companies, including Facebook, have failed to even issue basic platitudes on securing women’s location, app usage, or browsing data from state officials (or vigilantes) looking to punish women in the wake of Roe’s reversal.
Again, this initial lack of any meaningful backbone whatsoever in the face of one of the most wide-reaching, transformative, legally dubious, and dangerous political projects in a generation doesn’t exactly instill confidence that Facebook will make sound decisions as U.S. authoritarianism accelerates and a radical court steadily chips away at democratic norms and long-established law.