House Oversight Committee Democrats sent letters to Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg calling for their platforms to brief Congress later this month
A pair of letters issued by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, obtained exclusively by Rolling Stone, demand that Musk’s and Zuckerberg’s platforms take “immediate action to combat the spread of abortion misinformation,” and request that the companies deliver briefings to Congress on the matter by December 14.
The letters’ signatories, led by Ranking Member Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), point out that alongside the continued onslaught of post-Roe v. Wade legislative and judicial challenges to reproductive rights, “dangerously inaccurate medical information and false content about abortion” is spreading virtually unchecked online, particularly on the social media platforms run by Musk and Zuckerberg. The committee argues that such misinformation can move patients to “doubt their health care institutions, their doctors, and themselves — putting their own health and safety at risk.”
The proliferation of abortion misinformation on social media has been a cause for concern even before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June of last year, but the problem has significantly intensified as social media platforms attempt to navigate a changing legal landscape and the online presence of anti-abortion groups emboldened by their recent successes.
Despite both X and Meta having content and advertiser guidelines aimed at addressing misinformation, the letters point to reporting indicating that the platforms allow the proliferation of abortion misinformation, and inconsistently enforce their own policies.
In a statement to Rolling Stone Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas) said that “Companies like X are using their position to increase their profits all at the expense of women’s health and safety and it’s disgraceful. In Texas and in my district, we know this disinformation has life or death consequences for women — particularly Black and Hispanic women.”
“At a time where Republicans in Congress and state legislatures across the country are doing all they can to restrict women’s reproductive rights, we need companies to do the right thing and enforce their community guidelines and terms of service to ensure people looking for information about reproductive care get accurate information,” Crockett added, “not radical, pro-forced birth propaganda that jeopardizes the lives of women and girls.”
In the case of X, the committee raises concerns that the platform has allowed posts promoting and even advertising untested, potentially dangerous procedures attempting “abortion reversal,” while at the same time denying ads and promotions that advocate access to abortion services.
“Other posts by anti-abortion organizations spread dangerous falsehoods, such as questioning the safety of medication abortion or indicating that it can cause cancer or even death,” the letter points out. National access to the abortion medication mifepristone is currently facing a Supreme Court challenge. Earlier this year, a coalition of anti-abortion groups sued the Food and Drug Administration in an attempt to have mifepristone’s FDA approval revoked. Mifepristone and other abortion pills are a safe and effective method to terminate a pregnancy, a fact the committee juxtaposed alongside posts from conservative advocacy groups falsely claiming the medication is dangerous.
Similar issues were pointed out in the letter to Meta, with Democrats raising concerns that the company’s approach to mitigating abortion misinformation was “largely arbitrary.” They included instances in which posts containing helpful resources and medically accurate information for those seeking abortion services were removed under the company’s violence and incitement policy.
The letter to Zuckerberg references an August study conducted by the progressive nonprofit Media Matters, which found that Facebook has earned “tens of thousands in revenue from anti-abortion organizations running ads with misinformation about medication abortion procedures and so-called ‘abortion pill reversal.’”
In addition, the committee cited data from the Center for Countering Digital Hate showing that “between January 2020 and September 2021 alone, Facebook accepted between $115,400 and $140,667 for 92 advertisements promoting abortion pill reversal up to 18.4 million times.”
The letters requested that X and all of Meta’s platforms immediately intervene to “ensure that misinformation and disinformation does not further undermine” users’ ability to access appropriate, safe medical care.
Abortion has been a critical issue in midterm elections and state ballot measures held in the 18 months since Roe was overturned, and promises to be a major driver of voter turnout in the 2024 general election. Abortion misinformation, if left unchecked, could proliferate even more if it’s pushed by Republicans running for office.
Despite the anti-abortion position having lost every post-Roe state ballot measure put to voters, many GOP leaders continue to claim that they can win on abortion. RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel insisted in November that the Republican Party is in step with the everyday American, and can win on “common sense limitations.”
What kinds of “common sense limitations” are being proposed? In New Hampshire, Republicans in the state legislature have announced plans to introduce a bill that would ban almost all abortions after just 15 days of gestation. In Florida, the state’s Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody has petitioned the state Supreme Court to block a proposed constitutional amendment that, if approved by voters, would enshrine the right to abortion access in the state constitution. In April, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a six-week abortion ban that had been approved by the state legislature. A subsequent challenge to the law is currently being considered by the state Supreme Court, which is expected to rule in DeSantis’ favor.
As Democrats emphasized in their letters to Musk and Zuckerberg, the legal landscape around abortion is in flux and the threats against access to comprehensive medical care are only intensifying: “As the legal status of abortion changes across the country and a number of state legislatures impose drastic new restrictions on health care choices, people seeking information about abortion care and services” are turning to social media. They’re seeking “accurate and reliable information,” Democrats write, “not propaganda.”