Meta has been restricting abortion content all along.

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May 3 shortly after the US call Supreme Court decision overturning Rowe vs. Wade leaked, Blue Grano noticed something strange. Gano, who maintains an Instagram account for Fund Abortion Not Police, posted a guide to abortion services, including information on how to get abortion pills by mail and images with web addresses from organizations such as Aid Access and PlanC. The post was removed for violating Instagram’s community guidelines of “selling illegal or regulated items.”

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“It really bothered me that they were going to suspend the account,” says Gano. “I started to think it was about abortion and stopped using the word ‘pills’ and just said ‘abortion by mail’.

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A few days before the final decision of the Supreme Court overturning Caviar was published, the big tech companies have been largely silent on how they will react to the ruling, beyond promises support of own employees. But June 27 NBC reported that Meta limited some search results to the terms “abortion” and the drug “mifepristone”, one of two drugs commonly used for medical abortion. Motherboard found that posts like Gano’s post were removed for violating Meta’s policy restricting the sale of illegal or controlled substances on the company’s platforms.

Courtesy of Blue Grano
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Courtesy of Blue Grano

These reports have led to speculation that Meta changed its policy after Caviar was canceled to crack down on abortion-related content. However, Meta has denied changing its policy since the decision was made, with pro-choice activists saying the censorship has been going on for years. Activists who spoke to WIRED say they’ve seen the company’s AI moderation system flag abortion content, in many cases abortion pills, as “sensitive,” reduce its visibility, or remove it entirely.

Jessica Ansley, director of digital communications and opposition research at Reproaction, a non-profit organization that supports access to abortion, told WIRED that examples of content removed after the cancellation Caviar are just the latest and most notable of a longstanding trend of censoring abortion-related content on the Meta platforms.

“We’ve seen social media platforms like Meta suppress abortion content for quite some time now,” says Ansley. She recalls a September 2021 Reproaction Instagram post discussing World Health Organization protocols for drug-assisted self-abortion. A month later, in October, Ansley noticed that the content had been removed and a flag appeared on Reproaction’s Instagram account “notifying us that if we ever want to monetize, it will be a blow against us,” she says.

Abortion-related content that people have noticed has been removed from Meta platforms since the Supreme Court ruling “is the same stuff” as before, says a volunteer moderator of a large private Facebook group for American women seeking support and information about abortions. The moderator, who has been with the group for four years and has been a moderator for more than two, asked not to be named to protect her privacy. “There are just a lot more people posting these things now.”

She called the recent removals “completely unprecedented,” saying Facebook has been removing abortion pill-related posts and links from her group for years. To keep the group from being closed or flagged by Facebook, the moderator says it enforces strict rules, including not allowing members to post links to keep the group out of the company’s radar.

“What’s wild is that you don’t know where the line is,” she says. “Each post needs to be reviewed by a moderator because we don’t want people posting pill requests, requesting or submitting pills because that would remove the whole group.”

The moderator says that Reddit, where she also moderates the abortion subreddit, has similar rules about not selling or buying pills on the platform, but content and links discussing them are not removed by the platform and put the group at risk.

Activists and organizers who spoke to WIRED say other platforms are also known to censor abortion-related content. Ansley says Twitter removed one of Reproaction’s tweets about the abortion pill this year. tik tak has been accused by some users of removing abortion videos, although company spokesperson Jamie Favazza says the service’s policy does not prohibit content related to abortion or access to abortion, only medical misinformation and other violations of its rules. Community Principles.

The scale of the Meta platforms makes the moderation of abortion content especially powerful. Jennifer Johnsen, vice president of digital programs and education at Power to Decide, told WIRED that the Instagram page for the company Abortion Search Tool was abruptly removed on June 26 after almost two years of operation without incident.

Giving power to decide

“We were told that an artificial intelligence bot flagged it,” Johnsen says. The page has since been restored, but Johnsen fears the removal of such extensive content will ultimately harm women who seek reliable information. “Social media is a vital way the abortion care community connects with those seeking an abortion and spreads the word.”

Johnsen’s experience is common in the pro-choice activist community. Most of the people who have spoken to WIRED say that their content was automatically deleted by the AI ​​and not by another user.

Activists also fear that even if the content is not completely removed, its reach may be limited by the platform’s AI.

While it is almost impossible for users to understand how AI moderation in Meta is implemented for their content, last year the company announced this will de-emphasize political and news content in users’ news feeds. Meta did not respond to questions about whether abortion-related content falls into the category of political content.

Just as the various abortion activists who have spoken to WIRED have been subject to varying degrees of moderation on the Meta platform, so have users in various places around the world. WIRED experimented with posting the same phrase “Abortion pills available by mail” from Facebook and Instagram accounts in the UK, US, Singapore and the Philippines in English, Spanish and Tagalog. Instagram removed posts with the phrase in English when they were posted from the US, where abortion was recently restricted in some states following a court ruling last week, and from the Philippines, where it is illegal. But the message from the US, written in Spanish, and the message from the Philippines, written in Tagalog, still stood.

The phrase remained on Facebook and Instagram when it was posted in English from the UK. Posted in English from Singapore, where abortion is legal and widely available, the phrase remained on Instagram but was tagged on Facebook.

Contributed by Kenneth Dimalibot
Contributed by Kenneth Dimalibot

Ansley told WIRED that Reproaction’s Instagram campaigns to access abortions in Spanish and Polish were very successful and didn’t highlight any of the problems the group’s English-language content had.

“The meta, in particular, relies heavily on automated systems that are extremely sensitive to English and less sensitive to other languages,” says Katherine Trendacosta, associate director of policy and advocacy at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

WIRED also tested Meta moderation with Schedule 1 a substance that is legal for recreational use in 19 states and for medical use in 37 states by sharing “Marijuana available by mail” on Facebook in English from the US. The post has not been tagged.

“Content moderation with AI and machine learning takes a lot of time to set up and a lot of effort to maintain,” says a former Meta employee familiar with the organization’s content moderation practices, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “As circumstances change, you need to change the model, but that takes time and effort. So when the world is changing rapidly, these algorithms often don’t perform at their best and may be less accurate during periods of intense change.”

However, Trendacosta fears that law enforcement may also flag content for removal. In meta 2020 transparency In the report, the company noted that it “restricted access to 12 properties in the United States reported by various state attorneys general in connection with the promotion and sale of regulated goods and services, and 15 properties reported by the US Attorney General that they were allegedly involved in price manipulation.” All positions were later reinstated. “That state attorneys general can just say to Facebook, ‘Take it down’ and Facebook will do it, even if they end up bringing it back, is incredibly dangerous. ‘, says Trendacosta.

Meta spokesman Andy Stone told WIRED that the company has not changed its moderation policy in response to the cancellation. Rowe vs. Wadeand he said the company is working on a fix. In response to Motherboard’s article on moderating abortion-related content, he tweeted that Meta does not allow content attempting to “buy, sell, trade, donate, solicit, or donate pharmaceuticals” but does allow posts discussing the “availability and affordability” of prescription drugs. He added: “We have identified several instances of mis-enforcement and are correcting them.” On June 28, Instagram publicly acknowledged that sensitivity screens were added to several abortion posts, calling it a “bug” and stating that the platform is in the process of fixing it.

Meta spokesperson Dani Lever did not respond to WIRED’s questions about whether the company would invest in more human moderators for abortion-related content, or whether it would apply the same standards to this content across countries. Lever confirmed that Meta has since fixed issues with tagging and deleting posts on Instagram.

Confusion over how Meta handles abortion-related content has led some activists to reflect on the downsides of society becoming addicted to one company’s online social platforms. “For progressive people, Facebook meant creating your own community and being able to organize it when I first started in 2007,” says Robin Marty, author of the book. New Handbook for Post-Rowe America and operations director of the Women’s Center of West Alabama. “It was a special place where we all met to organize online. And so the very tools that we were given and that we have been using for over a decade to do this job are now being taken away from us.”

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