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Concerns mount over accuracy of online abortion information, privacy of searches

Julianne D' Eredita addresses other abortion rights activists Sunday during a march from the U.S. Supreme Court to the White House to protest the court's overturning Roe vs. Wade, ending federal abortion protection by turning over the issue to individual states. Photo by Jemal Countess/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/ae0de7e989ec08e072cfd5229fc8956d/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Julianne D' Eredita addresses other abortion rights activists Sunday during a march from the U.S. Supreme Court to the White House to protest the court's overturning Roe vs. Wade, ending federal abortion protection by turning over the issue to individual states. Photo by Jemal Countess/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, July 1 (UPI) -- In a post-Roe world, the possibility of receiving online misinformation about abortion, as well as maintaining privacy when seeking to learn about reproductive healthcare, have become major concerns.

Blocked online information is another worry. Some social media giants temporarily made it difficult to find information, deleting posts and blocking hashtags related to "abortion pills" and "mifepristone," a type of abortion pill.

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Experts told UPI that caution on the Internet is crucial.

"Misinformation is rampant on the Internet, where we can be certain that more bad actors will try to prey on this situation to peddle inaccurate and dangerous information and medication to women," said Kara Alaimo, associate professor at Hofstra University's Lawrence Herbert School of Communication in New York.

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In a recent blog, Alaimo noted that Abortion Finder, which she described as "a reputable platform that shares information about abortion resources" -- and is featured on a government website designed to inform people in the United States about their abortion rights -- reported that its Instagram page was temporarily suspended.

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Instagram had cited parent Meta's restricted goods policy, which bars "attempts to buy, sell, trade, coordinate the trade of, donate, gift or asks for non-medical drugs." The page was restored after an appeal.

"It's important for women to turn to reputable sources like ReproductiveRights.gov and Abortion Finder for accurate information and consult their physicians with questions," Alaimo said. She also offered a word of caution about using social media.

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"It's also jaw-dropping how quickly social networks have limited access to this [abortion and reproductive healthcare] information and even accidentally censored reputable sources," she said.

She added: "Lack of access to abortion is a public health crisis in this country right now, and women who can't find information about abortion pills may instead resort to illegal abortions, which can be deadly.

"It's unconscionable that Facebook and Instagram have been making it hard for women to find this information."

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Instead, Alaimo said Facebook and Instagram "should post resource centers similar to the ones social networks created with accurate information about vaccines and elections, to direct women -- who, by the way, are the majority of their users -- to reputable sources."

Alaimo echoed other experts on the concerns surrounding the use of certain apps that may leave digital trails.

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"Women shouldn't use apps that track their periods right now, as it's scary to think that such records could be obtained in an effort to prosecute them for illegal abortions," she said.

For those concerned about period trackers, Riana Pfefferkorn, research scholar at Stanford Internet Observatory, suggested a guide to abortion privacy from the Digital Defense Fund that she described as helping "cut through the hype and FUD [fear, uncertainty and doubt] around this topic."

She noted that the guide "explains how other sources of data are more likely than period-tracking data to be used as evidence -- specifically email, messages, web history and search history."

In addition to using "privacy-respecting" browsers, search engines and period trackers, she said it is "important for everyone to use end-to-end encrypted chat apps with disappearing messages turned on."

She added: "Signal knows almost nothing about you and lets you set messages to disappear in as little as 30 seconds, so that's the messaging app of choice in my book."

Users can also cut down on the amount of data collected about them by the everyday services they use, Pfefferkorn said.

"Take a little time to do a privacy and security checkup to tighten up the settings for your apps and services to be as privacy-respecting as possible," she said.

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"For example, if you use Google for search queries and directions, you can expunge your search history and location history and tweak your settings to not to keep a log of your search queries or location anymore," Pfefferkorn said.

She added, "You can also review what apps you have installed on your phone, install any you no longer need, and check what their permissions are to see if you've granted them location-tracking permission, and turn that off, too."

Abortion-rights advocates march against overturning of Roe vs. Wade

Women attend a candlelight vigil in Washington on June 26, two days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, ending federal abortion protections. Photo by Jemal Countess/UPI | License Photo

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