August 16, 2022

When Facebook and Instagram began removing posts about abortion that didn’t violate any community standards, at least two US lawmakers decided that Meta’s apparent practice of censoring pro-choice advocates needed more scrutiny.

Last week, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) sent a letter to Meta asking what the company plans to do to end abortion-post censorship on its platforms. They gave Meta until this Friday, July 15, to respond, placing urgency on their request and seeking evidence that the company is taking immediate action.

Examples of censorship cited in the letter include instances where Facebook and Instagram removed “posts providing accurate information about how to legally access abortion services” within minutes and placed sensitivity screens over a post promoting an abortion documentary. The senators also took issue with censorship of health care workers, including a temporary account suspension of an “organization dedicated to informing people in the United States about their abortion rights.”

Because the senators are concerned that Meta seemingly took little action after “users reported similar issues last fall when Texas’s law banning abortions after six weeks went into effect,” they now are asking Meta to share new information about how its content-moderation process works—and what changes the company plans to take now, if any.

Meta has until Friday to respond to the senators and explain much more than it has previously about the automated and manual measures that Facebook and Instagram use to flag posts on abortion, including sharing which hashtags are most vulnerable to censorship. The company was also asked to explain its process for reinstating a post that was wrongly removed and to hand over all Meta training documents provided to content moderation teams “about abortion posts in the current calendar year.” The senators want to know who wrote the training documents and when.

Additionally, the senators requested data revealing exactly how many posts were removed after the Supreme Court’s June 24 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and how many were eventually reinstated.

More transparency on all content moderation

Warren and Klobuchar wrote that since the Supreme Court decision was made, “it is more important than ever that social media platforms not censor truthful posts about abortion, particularly as people across the country turn to online communities to discuss and find information about reproductive rights.”

Because the trend of removing abortion posts has received broad attention, tech platforms are likely to continue facing new pressure to reveal how content moderation works beyond just abortion posts.

Although their complaint focuses on the issue of censoring abortion posts, the senators’ request could result in more transparency regarding Meta’s content moderation process overall—highly sought information ever since former President Donald Trump got suspended from Facebook. Last year, the independent non-partisan law and policy organization the Brennan Center called for more transparency, saying that the Facebook Oversight Board had raised many issues concerning “the company’s use of automated removal systems, its vague rules and unclear explanations of its decisions, and the need for proportionate enforcement.”

While Meta did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment on whether it plans to provide a timely response or if it has any plans to take immediate actions to stop removing abortion posts, CNN reported last month that “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.”

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