Warren Asks Facebook & Instagram to Stop Censoring Truthful Posts About Abortion

Ever since the Supreme Court issued its decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Facebook and Instagram have been removing posts aimed at helping people to access abortion and other reproductive services. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) is asking the companies to stop the practice.

Warren and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) sent a letter to the two companies last week, asking them to explain why they’re censoring posts that don’t contain misinformation about abortion or posts that just inform people of their rights in the wake of Dobbs v. Jackson. They say that such posts are critical to helping people who may be turning to social media to discuss abortion laws or to find information on abortion access.

“We write to express our concern about reports that Facebook and Instagram are censoring posts containing accurate information about abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson,” the lawmakers wrote. “In the aftermath of the decision, many took to social media to share stories about the impact of the decision, let others know how to legally obtain abortion services, and to discuss their personal experiences.”

Last month, as posts relating to abortion spiked following the Dobbs decision, Motherboard found that Facebook and Instagram were removing posts about how people can legally access abortion medication. Some users said that they were banned when they offered to mail abortion pills to anyone who needed them.

When a Motherboard reporter tried making a test post about mailing abortion medication, the company took the posts down nearly immediately and the account that posted the information was suspended for 24 hours. Similar posts offering to mail other pills or just mentioning abortion without the phrase “abortion pills” were not removed. The Associated Press found that posts about mailing guns or marijuana were not removed, even though there are federal restrictions on shipping guns and it is not legal to obtain marijuana in many states.

Instagram appears to be taking an even stricter approach against posts about abortion. Pro-abortion activist Asha Dahya wrote that Instagram was placing a content warning on her post depicting a poster for a documentary she made, Someone You Know. The filter said that the post, showing a stylized illustration of three people, “may contain graphic or violent content.”

Another post from an account with over 25,000 followers that said “Abortion in America How You Can Help” and urged people to donate to abortion funds, was also hidden behind a content warning. The company claimed it was a “bug.”

Cornell University Professor Brooke Erin Duffy, who studies social media, told the Associated Press that the company may have been actively censoring posts related to abortion but saying in public that it was a glitch. “We don’t know what happened. That’s what’s chilling about this,” said Duffy. Advocates for abortion rights have called the censorship “unconscionable.”

Klobuchar and Warren point out that social media users were experiencing similar problems, when Facebook and Instagram were hiding posts about abortion medications last September, when Texas’s abortion ban first went into effect. This could suggest that the censorship isn’t merely a bug, as Instagram claimed.

The lawmakers are asking the companies to clarify the methods they use to censor posts about abortion and to give an account of how many abortion-related posts and hashtags have been removed or blocked from the platforms.

Democrats have also highlighted privacy concerns with regards to tech companies in recent months. In May, Warren and 13 other lawmakers sent letters to two data firms that were selling location data of people who had visited clinics offering reproductive health services, including abortions. Such information could help states to incriminate abortion seekers or could make them targets of harassment or violence from anti-abortion vigilantes. The companies later agreed to permanently stop selling such data after the lawmakers raised concerns.