Abortion pill group’s Facebook page deleted for ‘promoting drug use’

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 May, 2017, 2:09pm
UPDATED : Friday, 12 May, 2017, 10:27pm

Facebook has censored the page of an organisation that helps women obtain abortion pills, citing its policy against the “promotion or encouragement of drug use”.

Women on Web, which is based in Amsterdam, helps connect women with doctors who can provide abortion pills if they live in countries where abortion access is restricted. It is a sister organisation to Women on Waves, which provides abortions and other reproductive health services on a ship in international waters.

Women on Waves announced that the page had been “unpublished” on its own Facebook account, writing: “Women on Web provides life-saving information to thousands of women worldwide. Its Facebook page publishes news, scientific information and the protocols of the World Health Organisation and Women on Web has answered over half a million emails with women who needed scientific, accurate information essential for their health and life.

“We expect Facebook will [undo] this action soon enough, as access to information is a human right.”

This is the second censorship row between Facebook and Women on Web. 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 apologised and reinstated both the image and her account.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

With nearly 2 billion users, the social media site plays a crucial role in disseminating news and information around the world. But Facebook has struggled to meet competing demands to allow for the free flow of information while cracking down on graphic material.

In 2016, the company faced international condemnation over its decision to censor the iconic Vietnam War photograph of a naked girl fleeing a Napalm attack. Facebook subsequently altered its policy to allow for editorial judgments about newsworthiness.

On May 3, amid criticism over its handling of graphic videos, Facebook announced that it would hire 3,000 more content reviewers. Such content reviewers are tasked with applying the company’s “community standards”, often with uneven results.

Facebook’s has faced particular difficulty enforcing its rules for “regulated goods” – prescription drugs, marijuana, firearms, and ammunition. The company bars “attempts by private individuals to purchase, sell, or trade” such items, but has struggled to halt gun sales.

The company has cracked down aggressively on pages related to legal medical marijuana, however. In 2015, the site temporarily banned business publication Crain’s for promoting a cover story about medical marijuana.