In the wake of the Supreme Court’s controversial decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, people have flooded social media platforms with information about how to access in-person or medication abortions to help those in states that have outlawed the procedure or could soon do so. But the situation could create a new set of challenges for the tech platforms.
While many tech companies have publicly offered to support employees seeking abortions by covering travel costs, they must also confront a still-developing legal environment that could impact their policies for how to moderate abortion-related posts from users. Certain posts now risk effectively advising people how to break the law in some states.
Already, a complex patchwork of state laws has emerged – with some states outlawing the procedure, some criminalizing it and others doubling down on their plans to protect rights to abortion. Some of the new laws banning abortion were quickly challenged or stayed by courts. There is also uncertainty over whether states have the authority to outlaw abortion medications that the FDA has approved.
The situation for tech companies has been further complicated by several highly public instances of enforcement errors in which platforms briefly removed content that they then restored. For example, the Instagram account for Abortion Finder, an online directory of US abortion providers, was suspended for several hours on Sunday before being restored and receiving messaging from the company saying the account was disabled “by mistake,” according to Rachel Perrone, vice president of communication for the nonprofit Power to Decide, which operates Abortion Finder.
The question of whether their moderation policies will run up against new state laws isn’t the only conundrum tech platforms are confronting in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling. Tech companies also must decide how they will respond to potential law enforcement requests for users’ personal data, which digital privacy experts have warned could be used in certain states to go after abortion-seekers or providers.
So far, major social media platforms have largely said they will apply existing content moderation guidelines to abortion content, and that those policies have not changed in light of the Supreme Court ruling or new state laws in recent days.
Several outlets reported this week that Meta-owned platforms Facebook and Instagram were removing posts in which individuals offered to order and send abortion medications for others to use. Company spokesperson Andy Stone pointed to Meta’s policy on pharmaceutical drugs, which prohibits efforts to buy, sell, trade or gift pharmaceuticals. However, the policy has an exception for legitimate online healthcare businesses, so accounts and posts from online pharmacies and directories that help provide access to abortion medications, such as Aid Access and Plan C, remain active.
“Content that discusses the affordability and accessibility of prescription medication is allowed,” Stone said in a tweet Monday. “We’ve discovered some instances of incorrect enforcement and are correcting these.”
A spokesperson for Twitter told CNN that the platform’s rules “Generally do not prohibit discussion about abortion, contraceptives, and related topics,” and confirmed that wouldn’t be changing, including for content on how to order abortion pills.
On YouTube, all content is subject to the platform’s community guidelines, a company spokesperson noted. The guidelines similarly prohibit the sale of pharmaceuticals without a prescription but otherwise do not make explicit mention of abortion. The spokesperson did not respond to a question about whether content explaining how to access abortion medication, such as through online pharmacies, would continue to be allowed under that policy, but said the platform is working to elevate authoritative information amid the news. (Google did not respond to a request to comment on whether it will adjust its results for abortion-related inquiries on Google Search in states that outlaw the procedure.)
TikTok did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The short-form video platform’s community guidelines say it aims to avoid enabling “activities that violate laws or regulations” and prohibits the trade or sale of “certain regulated goods.”
Videos using the hashtag #abortionpill have garnered more than 9 million views on the platform, as users share resources for how to access the medication. Many videos linked to national resources where the pills can still be ordered online. Other users offered to overnight mail the medication to people in states impacted by Roe’s reversal or volunteered places to stay for people who must travel to access the procedure.