Will social media platforms ban ads promoting abortion in red states?7 min read
It’s a trend that would force social media companies to make high-stakes and polarizing decisions about whether to ban advertising that promotes or facilitates abortion.
Currently, almost all major platforms prohibit advertisers from posting paid messages promoting or facilitating illegal products, services or activities. That includes Instagram, Google-owned YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, Snapchat, Reddit, Pinterest and LinkedIn. “Ads must not constitute, facilitate, or promote illegal products, services or activities,” Facebook’s ad policies say.
Some explicitly say that digital ads must comply with the local laws where the messages appear and that companies may over-enforce in situations where the legality is unclear.
“We expect all advertisers to comply with the local laws for any area their ads target, in addition to the standard Google Ads policies,” Google’s ad rules state. “We generally err on the side of caution in applying this policy because we don’t want to allow content of questionable legality.”
With Republican-led state legislatures likely to expand prohibitions against receiving, providing or facilitating abortions, clinics and other health-care providers offering related services may soon lose access to a powerful tool for reaching potential patients.
A leaked Supreme Court draft opinion, published by Politico on Monday and later authenticated by the court, showed that a majority of its justices would overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which created a long-standing federal precedent for abortion rights.
If the ruling is finalized, a slew of measures to criminalize abortions would quickly take effect, meaning that platforms would have to decide whether they would apply their rules against illegal services or activities in advertisements to groups seeking to promote abortions in red states.
The dynamic would thrust tech companies into the middle of a fiercely contested and highly politicized debate. And it could risk alienating staff and even executives, some of whom have openly backed abortion rights and lamented the court’s draft opinion.
While most major tech companies have remained relatively silent about the opinion this week, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg spoke out against it Tuesday.
“This is a scary day for women all across our country,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “If the leaked draft opinion becomes the law of the land, one of our most fundamental rights will be taken away.”
Sandberg added, “Every woman, no matter where she lives, must be free to choose whether and when she becomes a mother.”
Platforms’ handling of abortion-related ads have long been a major point of scrutiny in Washington, and the issue spawned one of the earliest high-profile skirmishes with a Republican lawmaker over allegations of bias.
In 2017, then-Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) hammered Twitter for not allowing her Senate campaign to promote a video that included an antiabortion message. Blackburn, now a senator, would go on to rail against Facebook in 2018 for temporarily taking down another ad in support of her candidacy.
“I’m being censored for telling the truth,” Blackburn said in a fundraising email in response to the first incident, according to the Hill. In the years since, Republicans have grown even more vocal in denouncing what they call “censorship” by Silicon Valley companies.
Platforms may also face fresh calls to crack down more broadly on organic content promoting abortion. But companies typically have tighter policies for paid content, such as ads.
The Technology 202 asked major platforms whether they currently prohibit ads promoting abortion services in states with restrictions already in place, such as Texas, or whether they would under new restrictions or bans.
Google pointed to its policies on abortion-related ads, which state that “we expect that ads and destinations follow appropriate laws and industry standards.” Google already bans abortion ads in dozens of countries, but currently not in the United States.
Facebook and Instagram parent company Meta pointed to policies requiring that ads related to abortion or reproductive rights receive prior authorization before they can run. TikTok directed an inquiry to its policy for health-care advertising, which states that such ads must “comply with local laws of the target country.” It does not directly address abortion, and the company did not respond to questions about state-level restrictions.
LinkedIn pointed to its policy on medical treatments, which states that “LinkedIn reserves the right to limit ads for medical devices and medical treatments.”
Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat did not return requests for comment. Reddit declined to comment.
Amazon union leader meets with Biden, testifies at Senate hearing
Amazon Labor Union (ALU) President Chris Smalls and other union organizers met with President Biden at the White House on Thursday, Reuters’s David Shepardson and Nandita Bose report. It comes amid momentum for unionization at Amazon and other firms, like Starbucks. Workers at one Amazon warehouse in New York have voted to organize with the ALU.
Biden wrote on Twitter that he met with Smalls and other union leaders to “thank them for their leadership in organizing unions,” adding that “these folks are inspiring a movement of workers across the country to fight for the pay and benefits they deserve.”
Smalls also testified at a Senate Budget Committee hearing on whether companies that violate labor laws should continue to receive federal contracts. Amazon didn’t respond to Reuters’s request for comment.
(Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Teenage girl accuses Snapchat of not protecting her from ‘egregious harm’
The 16-year-old is leading a class-action lawsuit against the app, claiming its designers have done next to nothing to prevent the sexual exploitation of girls like her, Drew Harwell reports. The lawsuit seeks at least $5 million in damages and promises that Snap will invest more in protecting teens, but it could also send ripple effects through Washington by drawing attention to a tech industry that has been left to police itself in the wake of federal lawmakers’ failure to pass tech regulations.
The company said it uses “the latest technologies” and develops software “to help us find and remove content that exploits or abuses minors.”
“While we cannot comment on active litigation, this is tragic, and we are glad the perpetrator has been caught and convicted,” Snap spokeswoman Rachel Racusen said. “Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our community.”
U.K. delays empowering new tech regulator
The United Kingdom’s government plans to introduce its draft bill laying out powers for the regulator on Tuesday, but will “stop short of including a final bill that could be made into law in the next one-year legislative session which begins this autumn,” the Financial Times’s Jim Pickard and Kate Beioley write. That would delay the bill’s passage until the 2023-2024 parliamentary session at the earliest, they report.
Plans to empower the regulator have been in the works for years. The U.K. government announced it was creating the regulator in 2020. Last year, it was set up in “shadow form” at the U.K. competition regulator, the FT reports. However, it has “no powers beyond the watchdog’s existing tool kit,” Pickard and Beioley write.
Without a new law laying out its powers, “the technology regulator will be unable to set bespoke rules for technology companies or fine them with penalties of up to 10 percent of turnover for breaching them — both elements of a radical plan to curb the dominance of a small number of powerful technology groups,” they write.
Tesla chief executive Elon Musk unveiled the list of backers who plan to finance $7 billion of his deal to buy Twitter. Our colleague, Taylor Lorenz:
“Free speech” Musk is now accepting investment $ from a Saudi prince of a Kingdom w a history of human rights abuses/censorship and a16z, a VC firm whose cofounder spent much of the pandemic platforming far right extremists & pledging to destroy the media https://t.co/NEz2NTQSoE
— Taylor Lorenz (@TaylorLorenz) May 5, 2022
Robert McNees, a physics professor at Loyola University Chicago:
It’s like he made a list of people and organizations who are tired of being criticized on Twitter and would jump at an opportunity to shut down that aspect of the platform. https://t.co/UmH6bGSWVj
— Robert McNees (@mcnees) May 5, 2022
Facebook deliberately caused havoc in Australia to influence new law, whistleblowers say (Wall Street Journal)
On Twitch, entertainment meets trauma as streamers cover Depp v. Heard trial (Nathan Grayson)
- NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson and others speak at the Second Quad Open RAN Forum on Monday at 7:45 a.m.
- The Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation hosts a webinar on algorithms in the U.S. legal system Thursday at 11 a.m.
- The FTC and Justice Department hold a listening forum on the impacts of mergers and acquisitions in the technology industry Thursday at 2 p.m.
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