In the wake of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade which returned the power to legislate abortion rights to the states, multiple tech companies have been called out for banning users and deleting messages which discuss methods to receive abortion services or information to perform them at home.
Roe v. Wade was a supreme court decision made all the way back in 1973, and while states have had varying laws concerning the specifics of allowed abortion services; the nation has never had to navigate such vastly differing state laws on abortion in the age of the internet.
Some states have suggested criminal persecution for individuals who cross state laws in order to access abortion services, making the legality of advice offered online potentially risky to host.
Most social media sites have a common sense rule preventing users from buying, selling, or trading pharmaceuticals, drugs, marijuana, and other controlled substances on their platforms. Some users have complained that simply discussing these options have resulted in their comments and accounts being moderated.
This has created a metaphorical minefield for tech companies controlling social media platforms. At what point does medical advice break their community standards or become irresponsible to host?
A representative of Meta recently clarified that posts had been erroneously moderated in recent days, but affirmed they would still moderate content which broke their existing policy.
“Content that attempts to buy, sell, trade, gift, request or donate pharmaceuticals is not allowed,” Meta communications rep Andy Stone said. “Content that discusses the affordability and accessibility of prescription medication is allowed. We’ve discovered some instances of incorrect enforcement and are correcting these.”
While some posts have been removed in error, it’s true that other posts have clearly broken social media standards. Users offering to buy pills on behalf of other users and send them have been increasingly frequent and have generally been removed. These posts break the Terms of Service for companies like Meta, but users are no less upset by it.
Tech companies have to perform a balancing act. On one hand, they have to respect the rights of their users to organize and lawfully engage with the platform. On the other hand they have to protect themselves from liability.
As such, users posting unsafe medical advice, or offering services like sending drugs opens these companies up to risk. However, some users argue that this is less about liability, and about the potential for tech companies to control the national discussion.
Regardless of your stance on abortion, this dramatic case of moderation raises concerns about biases held by big tech companies and their ability to control the narrative around controversial issues.
To test the perceived biases out, one reporter with the Associated Press performed an experiment offering to buy and sell multiple regulated items. A post offering to buy and mail abortion pills was quickly removed, while posts offering to buy and mail a gun or weed were left untouched.
However, this could be a result of social media moderators being more vigilant on the topic of abortion due to the recent court ruling, as opposed to willfully ignoring the other posts which would also run afoul of a site’s content policy.
What do you think? Do social media companies have a responsibility to protect their users from unprofessional medical advice? Or does this empower big tech companies to enforce their biases on conversations of national interest? Let us know in the comments!
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