Twitter Flagged a Tweet About Abortion Pills as 'Promoting Self-Harm'

Photo:  OLIVIER DOULIERY (Getty Images)
Photo: OLIVIER DOULIERY (Getty Images)

Twitter’s content moderation system seems to be struggling under the helm of new CEO Elon Musk, who fired about half of the company’s employees late last week before asking dozens to come back. After Musk closed the deal, online trolls posted a flood of racist tweets to test Twitter’s limits, and now the company appears to have incorrectly flagged a tweet about abortion pills under its policy against promoting self-harm.

On Tuesday, abortion researcher, advocate, and public health PhD student Hayley McMahon received an email alerting her one of her tweets violated Twitter policy, and her account was locked. The tweet in question was part of a thread on October 31 in which she shared the World Health Organization’s protocols for people doing their own medication abortions in what’s known as self-managed abortion. The regimen involves the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol. (McMahon’s handle is @McMisoprostol in a nod to the second drug.)

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The tweet was flagged for as violating its “rules against promoting or encouraging suicide or self-harm.” Priya Walia shared a screenshot of the email McMahon received from Twitter.

McMahon told Jezebel, “It’s no coincidence that white supremacy and antisemitism are fully included in Musk’s definition of ‘free speech,’ but a scientist sharing an evidence-based W.H.O. protocol on abortion that has been extensively documented as safe by numerous researchers and even the National Academies of Science is not.”

The email from Twitter said, “You may not promote or encourage suicide or self-harm. When we receive reports that a person is threatening suicide or self-harm, we may take a number of steps to assist them, such as reaching out to that person and providing resources such as contact information for our mental health partners.”

The email suggests that another Twitter user—either someone who is anti-abortion or pro-Musk and upset about this post from November 4—reported McMahon’s tweet.

Of course, abortion is healthcare, not self-harm, and managing your own early abortion with medications is safe and effective. An actual risk of self-harm is people living in places where abortion isn’t accessible trying to take their lives, or resorting to life-threatening alternatives to end their pregnancies.

McMahon noted that other plaforms have taken down abortion information, too: Instagram suspended the account of pill information website Plan C just days before Texas’ bounty hunter ban took effect in September 2021. TikTokers have also felt censored.

“I really hope people understand that this is not just about one tweet. The chilling of speech about safe abortion has been systematic and widespread across all of the top social platforms,” McMahon said. “We have seen Facebook censoring this information, Instagram censoring this information, and now Twitter censoring this information. Billionaires like Musk and [Mark] Zuckerberg are happily greasing the wheels for our full descent into fascism.”

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