Nadler Presses Facebook for Answers on Inaccurate Anti-Abortion Advertisements & Censoring of Accurate Abortion Information
Washington, February 11, 2022
Washington, D.C. - Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) sent a letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg demanding answers on Facebook’s continued promotion of medically inaccurate anti-abortion advertisements while simultaneously censoring medically accurate information about abortions services. The letter comes following several reports which found that Facebook has consistently engaged in the practice of suppressing accurate information while promoting misinformation, even beyond the context of abortion.
February 11, 2022
Mr. Mark Zuckerberg
Dear Mr. Zuckerberg:
I write to request information about Facebook’s advertising practices concerning abortion-related information. I am concerned by recent reports that Facebook has regularly circulated anti-abortion advertisements promoting medical misinformation while simultaneously blocking medically accurate information about abortion services. Given the recent onslaught of abortion restrictions that state legislatures have passed or are considering across the nation, it is imperative that women have access to medically accurate information concerning abortion treatment. To that end, it is incumbent upon Facebook to enforce properly its policies concerning advertisements with respect to abortion-related medical information.
Of particular concern are reports of anti-abortion ads appearing on Facebook that promote an unproven treatment to “reverse” abortions. This practice, known as “abortion pill reversal” or “abortion reversal” treatment, is based on the flawed theory that doses of progesterone can “undo the abortion pill, allowing women to continue a pregnancy.” According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as well as other medical experts, this practice is “not based on science” and “do[es] not meet clinical standards.” Dr. Daniel Grossman, an OB-GYN physician and director of the research group Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, stated that “[a]ll of the evidence” thus far “indicates that [‘abortion pill reversal’ treatment] is not effective.” Notably, Dr. Mitchell Creinin, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, Davis and lead researcher in a study to test the efficacy of “abortion pill reversal” treatment, uncovered evidence that the procedure “could cause very significant bleeding.” After three women were hospitalized for “severe vaginal bleeding,” his team of researchers stopped the study “immediately,” having determined that “the risk of participation for the women was too great to continue.”
Despite ample publicly available evidence demonstrating that “abortion pill reversal” treatment was unproven and unsafe, Facebook accepted between $115,400 and $140,667 for ads that promoted this very treatment. The Center for Countering Digital Hate (“CCDH”) analyzed 92 Facebook ads promoting “abortion pill reversal” between January 2020 and September 2021. These advertisements made unsupported claims that “abortion pill reversal” was effective, “either by statements such as ‘abortion pill reversal is possible’ or by featuring anecdotes from women who claim to have ‘reversed’ abortions.” CCDH discovered (through Facebook’s analytics) that users viewed these ads up to 18.4 million times, including more than 700,000 times by “children between the ages of 13 and 17.” This appears to be in direct violation of Facebook’s policy prohibiting ads targeted to minors that “promote products, services or content that are inappropriate, illegal or unsafe, or that exploit, mislead or exert undue pressure on the age groups targeted.” Facebook’s advertising polices, when properly enforced, are designed to prevent the promotion of unsafe practices such as “abortion pill reversal” treatment. That Facebook continued to circulate ads for “abortion pill reversal,” indicates that (1) the company knew about the dangers of this procedure, but still proceeded to promote this treatment or (2) the company is not properly regulating its advertising content, thereby putting citizens at risk.
Although Facebook issued a statement that it had removed “many of the ads identified in [CCDH’s] report,” it continued to circulate ads for “abortion pill reversal,” notwithstanding the dangers of this unproven medical procedure as well as CCDH’s finding that the ads targeted minors. According to data collected by CCDH, just one week after the publication of its report, Facebook circulated three ads from the anti-abortion group Live Action. Each of these ads “claimed that it is possible to reverse the abortion pill.” CCDH reported “that these ads had the potential to reach 1 million people each.”
Equally troubling is the fact that Facebook appears to have suppressed medically accurate information about abortion services. ReproAction, a reproductive justice organization, responded to Facebook’s “abortion reversal” ads by posting “graphics with medically accurate information about abortion pills.” Facebook removed these posts, stating that the organization “violated their community guidelines.” According to ReproAction, Facebook did not specify what guidelines it violated, nor was ReproAction “given recourse for appeal.” Unfortunately, this does not appear to be an isolated incident. SASS (Self-Managed Abortion; Safe & Supported), another reproductive health organization, faced similar treatment when Facebook removed one of their advertisements that included a graphic saying, “you can have an abortion at home.” Although Facebook reinstituted the advertisement after SASS appealed, it is deeply concerning that Facebook appears to be censoring medically accurate information about abortion services while promoting anti-abortion misinformation. This is further demonstrated by Facebook’s decision to suppress medical information after Texas enacted S.B. 8—which bans abortions after approximately six weeks of pregnancy with no exception for rape or incest. As noted by ReproAction, after S.B. 8 was passed, “Facebook both suppressed the hashtags for mifepristone and misoprostol—two medications that can safely end a pregnancy at home. Meanwhile, [facebook] allowed anti-abortion advocates’ access to the ‘abortion pill reversal’ hashtag.”
Disturbingly, Facebook’s decision to suppress accurate information while promoting misinformation is not anomalous. As various reports have documented, this behavior is indicative of a pattern that spans beyond the context of abortion. Researchers at the Cybersecurity for Democracy project at New York University found that “far-right purveyors of misinformation have by far the highest levels of engagement per follower compared to any other category of news source.” When looking at the far-right, the researchers determined that regularly circulating misinformation “confers a significant advantage” in “outperforming non-misinformation sources.” Notably, the researchers found that “[c]enter and left partisan categories incur a misinformation penalty, while right-leaning sources do not.”
In light of the foregoing, please provide the Committee with the following by no later than February 25, 2022:
Thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter.