Skip to main content

Features

Out of the network

Companies like Facebook and Twitter claim neutrality but have proven willing to block pro-life ads

Out of the network

(iStock)

Political pressure has heated up over late-term abortion—with President Donald Trump pushing for a late-term abortion ban during Tuesday’s State of the Union address. But pro-life advocates know the battle for abortion needs to be won not just in Washington but in hearts and minds across the country.

In a quest to reach millennials, some pro-life organizations have relied heavily on paid advertisements on platforms like Twitter and Facebook. The idea: reach beyond an existing follower base and expand social media presence. The strategy has proved successful in adding followers, but it’s also resulted in pushback. While Twitter and Facebook claim neutrality on political issues, both companies have sometimes banned pro-life advertisements on their platforms.

In January, Facebook blocked producer/director Nick Loeb from promoting his upcoming film Roe v. Wade. Facebook cited its advertising policy that prohibits ads involving advocacy for topics the company considers “issues of national importance.”

Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images

Nick Loeb (Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images)

“They don’t like conservative content,” Loeb told Page Six. “This is a PG movie, no profanity, no gore. They are afraid this movie will overturn Roe v. Wade.”

Lila Rose, founder of the pro-life group Live Action, says her organization has the largest social media following in the pro-life movement. The group used to reach thousands by advertising on Twitter, but Rose says the social media company banned Live Action from advertising in 2015.

In an email exchange between Live Action and Twitter in 2017, Twitter staffers said they had banned Live Action’s paid “promoted” tweets based on their policy against sensitive ad content. The policy prohibits “threatening, violent, gruesome, abusive, shocking or disturbing content” or “inflammatory or provocative content which is likely to evoke a strong negative reaction.”

Rose told me some of the banned promotional tweets include the message “I am a child, not a choice” and also a quote from the Declaration of Independence. “This is not a question of Twitter banning or attempting to suppress … graphic messages,” said Rose. 

Facebook

Lila Rose (Facebook)

“These are not graphic messages. These are simple messages explaining the value of human life or showing images of ultrasounds.”

In written testimony submitted to the House Energy and Commerce Committee prior to hearings in September, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said the purpose of Twitter is “to serve the public conversation, and we do not make value judgments on personal beliefs.” The platform appears to apply that philosophy only to tweets sent within a user’s own network. 

According to Rose, Twitter has banned Live Action’s ability to promote tweets beyond its own followers until the group deletes all the tweets (even nonpromoted ones) that Twitter considers offensive. Rose said Twitter also demanded the organization remove similar content from its website, since Live Action’s tweets link back to it.

Facebook’s censorship of pro-life ads has sometimes come haphazardly. Just prior to the November midterm elections, Facebook reinstated a pro-life political advertisement by the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) it had taken down earlier. The social media company stated, “This ad does not violate Facebook’s policies and should never have been disapproved. We’re sorry for this mistake.”

“This is a great development,” the SBA List tweeted in response. “However, this is the FIFTH time Facebook has censored our ads in the last month. Facebook has created a hostile environment for #ProLife speech as we never know when they’re going to decide to shut down our ads.”

Facebook has created a hostile environment for #ProLife speech as we never know when they’re going to decide to shut down our ads.

—Susan B. Anthony List 

Live Action has also successfully appealed banned posts and videos on Facebook.

“Facebook is willing to reverse course. But Twitter has not done that,” said Rose. She noted that by banning pro-life ads, Twitter is, in effect, taking an ideological position while claiming not to make value judgments on personal beliefs. 

“Facebook is willing to backtrack and willing to try and do what’s right,” she said. “They’re trying to run a business, and they understand that if they start banning people ideologically it’s going to really harm their platform.”

Michael Cochrane

Michael Cochrane

Michael is a retired Defense Department engineer and former Army officer who is an adjunct professor of engineering management at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. He is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Michael on Twitter @MFCochrane.