ACLJ Files Critical Brief With Facebook Oversight Board Making the Case for Pro-Life Free Speech Online
We just commemorated the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s seismic abortion decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that reversed the tragically flawed Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 and rightfully sent the issue back to the states. One thing has not changed, though: the pro-life movement’s commitment to preserving preborn life.
At the ACLJ, we believe that pro-life citizens should have the right to debate the legal, social, and even more importantly, the moral ramifications of the intentional destruction of innocent preborn life in America. But that debate presupposes a fair and equal right to use public platforms for the communication of sanctity of life views.
In pursuing that right, the ACLJ just weighed in on one of the most novel and important questions that remains after Dobbs: Will the voices of pro-life Americans be allowed on the world’s biggest internet platforms?
Enter Facebook and Instagram that operate under the new corporate name, Meta. Facebook is actively used by more than 186 million Americans. Instagram boasts in excess of 168 million users. The two of them are an integral part of the new public square. In practice though, these powerful Silicon Valley platforms have had a troubled record when it comes to restricting pro-life messaging.
Now, Meta’s international appeals body, the Oversight Board, which is comprised of a global panel of former judges and political leaders, journalists, legal experts, and academicians, has taken up three cases for review involving Facebook and Instagram censoring abortion-related posts. One of those involved Facebook blocking a pro-life message.
The ACLJ filed our own legal arguments with the Oversight Board, urging the tribunal to instruct Facebook and Instagram that pro-life messaging must be protected, and we also pointed out exactly how that could be done.
One post censored by Facebook came from a pro-lifer who addressed the morally bankrupt illogic of “pro-choice” supporters of abortion who suggest that abortion somehow rescues an infant from being unwanted, and therefore is a form of compassion. The Facebook post described “Pro-Abortion logic” of the “liberal left” as saying, in effect, that “We don’t want you to be poor, starved or unwanted. So we’ll just kill you instead.”
We think that message was right on point. It displayed what a pitiful justification it is to assert supposed compassion as a reason for ending an innocent life. But we also believe something else: that the Facebook post and others like it deserve to be shared over Facebook without being censored.
Facebook apparently blocked the pro-life post because of the use of the word “kill,” which triggered the Facebook rules against “incitement” of violence. This should have been an easy call for the Facebook content reviewers to realize that the message didn’t violate the Facebook guidelines.
As our arguments to the Oversight Board explained, Meta’s guidelines on incitement to violence stress that “language and context” are key to evaluating questionable posts. They also distinguish between acceptable “casual statements” or references to violence in a “non-serious” manner from those that should be blocked because they pose a “credible threat.” In fact, the rules even suggest that certain statements employing variations of “kill,” for instance, “Terrorists deserve to be killed,” are not to be censored. When Facebook reviewers confronted the pro-life post, it should have been left alone.
But that is not what happened. Only after the pro-life Facebook user’s post was blocked and the user appealed to the Oversight Board, and two other blocked users who were pro-abortion also appealed, did Meta executives admit the error and restore all three posts. But by then, from a free speech standpoint, the damage had already been done.
Our arguments to the Oversight Board laid out the legal principles that ought to guide Meta content reviewers in the future based on U.S. Supreme Court decisions on the First Amendment as well as international law precedent. One such decision issued by the European Court of Human Rights that protected pro-life expression was a case in which the ACLJ participated through our affiliate, the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ).
When the Oversight Board decides the case, it will publish its opinion and the ACLJ will be certain to address it. Meanwhile, we will continue our fight for pro-life views in every arena, including on the internet. The sanctity of life position has medical science, historic human rights principles, legal clarity, and moral commonsense on its side. All we ask is an equal chance to make the pro-life case in the marketplace of ideas.