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What can be said on social media?

Testing what can be said about abortion on social media

What can you say about abortion on Meta’s Facebook and Instagram? Does the social media giant’s policy collide with an open debate about abortion after the US Supreme Court’s  ruling that de facto removed access to abortion from being a constitutional right? Meta’s Oversight Board has announced it will investigate three cases where posts about abortion were removed as they were estimated to violate Meta’s policy on violence and incitement.

The three posts now being investigated were published in March 2023. When the Supreme Court’s ruling was published last year, social media within minutes became the place where women offered help to fellow sisters needing access to in-person or medication abortions. 

While many tech and media companies said they would support employees seeking abortion by paying travel costs etc, the focus on abortion meant a complicated moderation issue for them.

The users who now in March posted abortion texts on Facebook and Instagram have appealed Meta’s decision to take down their posts and want them restored. Meta had removed all three of them but later determined all were removed in error.

Read Also:  Abortion access and social media moderation

A Facebook user posted an image with a caption in a public group which describes itself as supporting traditional values and the “sanctity of human life” while opposing, among other things, the “liberal left.” 

The image shows outstretched hands with a text overlay titled “Pro-Abortion Logic.” It continues, “We don’t want you to be poor, starved or unwanted. So we’ll just kill you instead.” The caption states “Psychopaths…”

In the second and third cases, users posted news articles reporting on a proposed bill in South Carolina that would apply state homicide laws to abortion, making people who get abortions eligible for the death penalty.

An Instagram user posted an image with a caption. The image shows another Instagram post with an image of a news article headline stating, “21 South Carolina GOP Lawmakers Propose Death Penalty for Women Who Have Abortions.” The caption references being so pro-life “we’ll kill you dead if you get an abortion.”

In the third case, a Facebook user posted a link to an article titled “South Carolina GOP lawmakers propose death penalty for women who have abortions.” The caption asks for clarity on whether the lawmakers’ position is that “it’s wrong to kill so we are going to kill you.”

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In all three cases, a hostile speech classifier, an automated system to identify potentially violating content, identified the post and sent it for human review. 

In each case, a human reviewer determined the post violated the Violence and Incitement Community Standard, specifically the provision prohibiting death threats. 

All three users appealed the removal decisions.

In the first and second case, the case received one additional human review that upheld the removal for violating the Violence and Incitement policy. 

In the third case, on appeal the human reviewer found the content was non-violating, which led to the post being reviewed for a third time. This reviewer, however, found the content violated the prohibition on death threats and Meta therefore upheld its initial decision to remove the content.

The three users then appealed the cases to the Oversight board. 

“As a result of the board selecting these cases, Meta determined that its previous decisions to remove the three pieces of content were in error and restored the posts£, the board says.

Meta stated that, while the policy prohibits threats that could lead to death, when viewed holistically, none of the pieces of content included a threat.

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The board says it selected these cases to assess whether Meta’s policies or its enforcement practices may be limiting discussion about abortion. They fall within the board’s strategic priority of gender.

After the Supreme Court’s ruling last year a spokesperson for Meta confirmed that Meta would be taking down any offer to provide abortion pills. He tweeted:

“Content that attempts to buy, sell, trade, gift, request or donate pharmaceuticals is not allowed. Content that discusses the affordability and accessibility of prescription medication is allowed. We’ve discovered some instances of incorrect enforcement and are correcting these.”

Explainers on how to obtain abortion pills in the mail boomed across social platforms. US media intelligence firm Zignal Lab reported a spike in mentioning of the pills on social media and in broadcasts.

Read Also:  Journalism unions want to add access to abortion in health care plans

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