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Abortion groups say tech companies suppress posts and accounts| GuyWhoKnowsThings

TikTok briefly suspended the account of Hey Jane, a prominent telemedicine abortion service, four times without explanation. Instagram suspended Mayday Health, a nonprofit that provides information about access to abortion pills, without giving any explanation. And the search engine Bing has mistakenly flagged the website of Aid Access, a major online seller of abortion pills, as unsafe.

Women's health groups and advocates say these examples, all from recent months, show why they are increasingly confused and frustrated by how major tech platforms moderate posts about abortion services.

They say companies' policies on abortion-related content, including ads, have long been opaque. But they say platforms appear to have been more aggressive in removing or suppressing posts that share information about how to obtain safe, legal procedures since the Supreme Court ended the constitutional right to abortion in 2022. And when platforms restrict accounts , the It can be difficult to contact companies to find out why.

Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, an organization dedicated to abortion abolition, said Big Tech companies had routinely limited her and other groups' pro-life speech, suspending accounts and blocking ads with little explanation.

“Transparency is the main point,” said Jane Eklund, a member of the human rights group Amnesty International USA, which released a report on Tuesday calling on tech giants to clearly describe and explain their rules around abortion-related content. “Without clear guidelines, it is difficult to hold them accountable for their actions that could be impacting users or to identify and address any content moderation that affects what people can find online.”

Concern that some tech platforms are suppressing posts about abortion has led to changes in the way women and organizations talk about the issue online. They intentionally misspell the term as “aborshun” or “ab0rti0n,” or replace “bor” with a wild boar emoji in hopes of reaching more people.

But that can also make it harder for people to find information, and coded language risks adding stigma to the procedure, experts and content creators say.

“We shouldn't have to substitute words, we shouldn't have to censor ourselves,” said Ashley Garcia, a 24-year-old part-time creator, who made two videos promoting Hey Jane last year.

The tech companies did not detail how their moderation of abortion-related content may have changed since 2022, although TikTok said it had not made significant changes. The companies said the problems with suspensions and flags from Hey Jane, Mayday Health and Aid Access were mistakes they rectified.

TikTok said accounts can post about abortion. But it has a long-standing policy against advertising abortion services, which it considers “inappropriate businesses, products or services,” along with plastic surgery and organ transplants. Instagram allows ads for abortion services.

The report released Tuesday by Amnesty International USA included details about how Meta, the owner of Instagram and Facebook, and TikTok, have moderated the accounts and posts of at least six organizations that promote or provide abortion services over the past two years.

For example, TikTok removed videos from the Hey Jane account, which has 105,000 followers, for promoting “illegal activities and regulated goods,” including one that detailed the states where it operated and how it hoped to expand to other states. That video was not restored.

Last month, Hey Jane struggled for days to determine why TikTok had abruptly banned her account. The tech company eventually reinstated the account; Rebecca Davis, head of brand marketing at Hey Jane, said TikTok had told her that “the suspension was due to 'excessive moderation' of its policy around prescription drugs and should not have been removed.”

“That's pretty much all they can say, except that it was a mistake and they will do everything they can to make sure it doesn't happen again,” Ms. Davis said.

TikTok declined to comment on details about the Hey Jane experience.

Groups have complained about similar problems on Instagram. Last year, the social network removed a post from Ipas, a nonprofit organization that promotes abortion rights, that had shared the protocol recommended by the World Health Organization for performing a medical abortion. Instagram said at the time that the post had violated Meta's policy on the “sale of regulated goods or services.”

Instagram suspended Mayday Health's account in March for the second time since 2022 “without any clear explanation or justification,” said Olivia Raisner, the group's chief executive. Mayday Health was told it had violated Instagram guidelines by posting about “weapons, drugs and other restricted products.” The group appealed and regained its account, with more than 20,000 followers, after five days. Meta said last week that the Mayday and Ipas broadcasts were errors.

“Our fear would be that for every day our bills are down, there are fewer people in states with bans who don't get information about how to get pills,” Ms. Raisner said.

Ryan Daniels, a spokesperson for Meta, said Instagram allowed ads and posts for abortion services, as well as content from anti-abortion groups. “We want our platforms to be a place where people can access reliable information about health services, advertisers can promote health services and everyone can discuss and debate public policies in this space,” he said. “That is why we allow posts and advertisements about, discussing and debating abortion.”

Some women's health groups, as well as some doctors and creators, say they fear that the platforms are also suppressing the distribution of posts about abortion services.

Mayday Health said the number of people viewing its posts on Instagram had plummeted this year. A infographic posts about abortion pills reached 15,730 accounts in April 2023; to similar post Since this month of March it reached only 1,207 accounts, although now the account has more followers.

Davis said TikTok representatives had explicitly told him that if videos or captions used the word “abortion,” the content would be flagged and might not appear in users' main feeds.

TikTok said it did not ban posts about abortion from appearing in custom feeds, but did not address whether it limited such content. Instagram said this year that it would not recommend “political content” unless users opted to see it. Abortion advocacy groups have not received clarity on whether the issue is considered political, and Meta declined to specify.

Abortion rights groups say the problems have also spread to search engines like Microsoft's Bing.

Europe-based Aid Access is among the most prominent online providers of abortion pills in the United States, where Medical abortions have increased dramatically.. In a search query for abortion pills on Thursday, the website Aid Access was on the first page of Google results, but was not among the first 10 pages of results on Bing.

A Microsoft representative said that sources similar in relevance and quality appeared in their place.

For months, Bing mislabeled Aid Access with a red warning pop-up that said the organization was on the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy's “not recommended” list. The pharmacy association delisted Aid Access in September after the organization changed the source of abortion pills from a pharmacy in India to suppliers in the United States approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Bing continued to post the label even after Aid Access informed it of the change. The label was removed after an investigation by a New York Times reporter in May.

In several Republican-led states where abortion has been heavily restricted since the 2022 Supreme Court decision, state officials have introduced measures to punish organizations that provide abortion pills or information on how to obtain abortions online.

Tim Griffin, the Republican attorney general of Arkansas, sent Aid Access a “cease and desist” letter in May, saying the organization was violating the state's deceptive trade practices law because its ads could be seen by women in Arkansas, where abortion is prohibited unless necessary to save the mother's life.

Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, founder and CEO of Aid Access, said the threat would not change the organization's focus. The organization does minimal online marketing because of the challenges posed by big tech companies, she said, and relies instead on word-of-mouth referrals from patients and doctors.

“It's been a game, up and down, with all the social media and search companies,” Dr. Gomperts said.

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