Many British women were startled when they woke up on New Year’s Day to find their Facebook profiles had started advertising abortion providers to them. The ad in question, from American Abortion advisory website abortion.com, simply said: “Find An Abortion Provider Near You“, as well as a US Freephone number. A click led to a mostly US-focused website, which lists a huge number of abortion providers throughout the US and just one provider in the UK, “Abortion support Network”.
Some women targeted by the ad reacted with humour – one quipped to me: “Well, at least Facebook is also offering me wedding dresses at the same time, so it’s giving me options.” However, many who received the ad started to second-guess their lifestyle choices. What were they doing that made Facebook think they were in the market for a termination? Was it their lifestyle? Was something in their pictures or their statuses that flipped a switch that made an algorithm assume they were pregnant?
Now, I’ve got no problem with abortion providers advertising per se; but I’d still pay good money to find out exactly what search terms or keywords the abortion.com ad is looking for (sadly, they refused to comment for this piece when asked). When asked, Facebook declined to offer any information on the specific keywords, and issued a bullish statement about abortion advertising. A spokesperson told me: “Advertising of Post-Conception Advice Services (PCAS) is permitted under Facebook’s rules, just as it is in print and broadcast media in the UK. Unlike other media, if people don’t like an advert they see on Facebook they are able to dismiss it by clicking ‘X’ on the corner of the ad.”