The Digital Rights Issue
Women on Web Newsletter |The Digital Rights Issue
Women on Web is a global online abortion service. We are an international team of help desk workers, activists, researchers, doctors and social justice and digital rights advocates. As a collective, we provide access to safe and affordable online abortion care centered around the needs, rights, privacy and preferences of women and pregnant persons.
We are motivated by a belief in bodily autonomy and social and digital innovations that expand access and catalyze policy change. We are passionate about empowering people with accurate, complete, and easy-to-read information about abortions.
This is our first newsletter exclusively focused on sharing news and updates about our work at the intersection of digital rights and abortion access.
We won our Supreme Court case against Spain for blocking our website
In the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, while millions struggled to access in-person medical care, Spain blocked our website indefinitely and obstructed access to information about sexual and reproductive rights and remote abortion care.
Soon after, Women's Link Worldwide filed a lawsuit on behalf of Women on Web to challenge the blockage in the courts and defend the right to sexual and reproductive health information on the internet.
On October 06, 2022, the Supreme Court of Spain finally ordered the partial unblocking of our website. The decision recognizes that online information on sexual and reproductive rights including abortion is protected by the right to information and freedom of expression.
This is a significant win for Women on Web and for reproductive and digital rights worldwide. The Supreme Court decision gives us the courage to continue our work at the intersection of digital rights and reproductive rights and keep fighting digital suppression against governments and on digital platforms.
Our websites are still totally blocked in Turkey and South Korea, where we continue to fight censorship by taking legal action and raising awareness with your support.
Google’s Algorithm Bias is Endangering Access to Abortion Services
Google Core Updates are hurting our online abortion service. After almost every routine update since May 2020, we have lost traffic and experienced a sharp decline in requests for our service. The update of May 2020 resulted in the dramatic loss of 80% of our traffic and 40% of our consultations worldwide. Another update in November 2021 reduced our traffic by 30%.
We finally became hopeful again in May 2022 as our website traffic started increasing just enough to recover some of the previous losses. Our excitement was short-lived: A new update rollout in September has been hurting our website ever since by reducing our traffic by 48%.
Digital abortion services are vulnerable to Google’s search algorithm updates. These changes can arbitrarily and single-handedly determine the fate of digital services and block access to abortion care for thousands of people.
Google’s algorithm fails to consider how modern abortion care is increasingly digital and moving towards self-care models, hurting well-established and trustworthy online abortion providers who maintain safe abortion access in restricted contexts.
Facebook is Blocking Access to Abortion by Disabling our Accounts.
This year we celebrated Safe Abortion day, on September 28th, without our main Instagram account, just like we did last year. Despite our multiple appeals to Instagram/Facebook, our account remained disabled for twenty days before Instagram decided to reinstate it. The reason for the suspension, according to META, was that our account went against their ‘Community Guidelines” by inciting people “to purchase, sell, raffle, gift, transfer, or trade certain goods and services on our platform.”
We want to thank our digital community for mobilizing, sharing our posts, and tagging META to let everyone know about the censorship. This is what solidarity and community care look like, and we couldn’t have done it without YOU!
This is not the only Women on Web account that the company repeatedly disables. This year alone, our Hungarian, Arabic, Mexican, Malaysian, Singaporean, and Polish Facebook and Instagram handles have also been shut down for extended periods.
Facebook also frequently takes down our posts, such as this recent popular post about advance provision of abortion pills on Instagram. Not to mention that our entire Women on Web META Business suite has been restricted since 2021 and is at risk of being permanently shut down at any time.
Since early 2021, we’ve attempted to run around 110 ads through META. Of those 70 were rejected at first submission. Even after we appealed the rejections, only about half were allowed to run.
Thousands of people around the world depend on our service and the information that we share. These suspensions are detrimental to our mission and the free sharing of accurate evidence-based information online.
Challenging Tech Gatekeepers and Digital Suppression: Our Meeting at RightsCon and the Next Steps.
In June 2022, Women on Web, Women First Digital, and Reproaction held a meeting at the RightsCon Summit Series with organizations working in digital sexual and reproductive spaces encountering digital suppression and fighting disinformation.
We knew going into the meeting that the challenges we face are widespread and systematic. Therefore the meeting was not only about sharing experiences, but coming up with solutions and developing a series of demands for Big Tech.
If medically accurate information about abortion cannot be freely disseminated but mis/disinformation can spread unchecked on social media platforms, it is time for tech gatekeepers to review their own policies.
Let’s keep the pressure on and continue to expose digital suppression!
Stay tuned: The demands for the Big Tech are brewing, expect to hear back from us soon!