As of late Thursday night, Facebook has yet to explain why it has blocked the page of a women’s health organization that provides abortion counseling and drug access to thousands of women across the globe each day. And reproductive rights advocates from around the world are not happy about it.
“I’ve seen a lot of this lately. Extreme conservatives using loopholes in the fb algorithm processes to bully various pages and groups.”
News that the Facebook page operated by Women on Web, which runs a global help desk for women seeking information on ending pregnancies safely and provides access to abortion pills, was first reported by its sister organization, Women on Waves, which operates a boat that travels the world providing medical care, including abortions, in places where access to such services for women is limited, highly restricted, or banned outright.
As their Facebook page remained active, Women on Waves on Thursday morning posted a message—alongside a screenshot of the notice received from Facebook which said the page had violated terms of service—to alert people to what had happened.
“Dear all,” the post reads, “our sister organization @WomenOnWeb.IF has been unpublished by Facebook under the accusation of ‘encouragement of drug use.'”
Defending its partner, the post described how the group, which is based in Amsterdam, “provides life-saving information to thousands of women worldwide” and that its page on Facebook “publishes news, scientific information and the protocols of the World Health Organization and Women on Web has answered over half a million emails with women who needed scientific, accurate information essential for their health and life.”
Supporters of the groups who commented on the post were outraged. “What the hell?” said one in reaction. Someone else added, “WTF Facebook?!”
Another suggested it was part of a larger and more troubling trend. “I’ve seen a lot of this lately,” the person wrote. “Extreme conservatives using loopholes in the fb algorithm processes to bully various pages and groups.”
Women on Web subsequently posted this message to its Twitter account
The Independent, which first reported the story, said that a Facebook spokesperson was “investigating the incident.” Later reporting by the Guardian said the social media giant
did not immediately respond to its request for comment, nor was response given to requests submitted for this article.
As of this writing, the group’s Facebook page remains unavailable with those trying to access the page receiving this notice:
As The Guardian reports, this is not the first time that Women on Web has had problems with Facebook:
In January 2012, Facebook deleted the profile photograph of the group’s founder and director, Dr Rebecca Gomperts. The image contained instructions for inducing an abortion using Misoprostol. Gomperts was locked out of her account for two days after re-posting the image, but Facebook subsequently apologized and reinstated both the image and her account.
Thursday’s incident comes amid increased worries that large social media and web platforms—which have come to dominate the way digital content is shared and monetized on the web—are having an outsized and unaccountable role in how information is managed and controlled by private, for-profit corporations.
“We expect Facebook will undue this action soon enough as access to information is a human right.” —Women on WavesOn Wednesday, Facebook announced new protocols regarding how it plans to deal with what it deems “low-quality web page experiences.” And while all people might agree they want to see less “low-quality” material or information on the web, serious concerns about censorship and bias quickly emerge when discussion moves towards what gets classified as “low-quality” and, perhaps more importantly, who gets to decide what meets that definition.
For its part, Women on Waves said it believed Facebook would rectify the situation with its sister organization before long.
“We expect Facebook will undue this action soon enough,” the group said in its post, “as access to information is a human right.”
Meanwhile on Twitter, users of one social media platform were condemning the behavior of another platform as they demanded Facebook reinstate the Women on Web page immediately.
Jon Queally, staff writer for Common Dreams