Companies push back against Texas abortion law

What’s happening? Anti-abortion website Texas Right to Life has been forced to change web host after GoDaddy gave it 24 hours to find an alternative host because the site had violated its data privacy service agreement. Shortly after the state made it illegal to aid an abortion, the site said citizens should report anyone who breaks the new law through its whistleblower platform. The website is now listed as hosted by Epik, which hosts the formerly deplatformed social media site Parler, hate forum 8chan and Gab, although Epik said Texas Right to Life breached its terms of service as well. (The Verge)

Some context – If you haven’t heard… Texas has passed an abortion law that effectively criminalises abortion of any foetus after 6 weeks. Any private citizen is allowed to file a lawsuit against individuals obtaining an “illegal” abortion, as well as any individuals who “aid or abet” procedures. You can read more on this here.

Why does this matter? GoDaddy’s actions are relatively straightforward, their terms of service clearly state that websites hosted on its server are not allowed to harvest “non-public or personally identifiable information” of any person without their written consent. As the individuals being reported on haven’t provided consent, the website’s primary function is fundamentally not compliant with GoDaddy’s terms.

While found a new host with Epik’s BitMitigate, it seemingly continued to fall foul of guidelines, and after several days of errors the web address now redirects browsers to Texas Right to Life’s main site rather than a whistleblowing form.

Where have we seen this before? While in GoDaddy’s case, deplatforming Texas Right to Life’s site was a clear matter of violation of policy, a similar situation occurred earlier this year when Google, Apple and Amazon Web Services (AWS) chose to stop providing service and access to messaging forum Parler – which hosted users instrumental in organising the US Capitol riots on 6 January. The companies chose to discontinue service due to the increasingly violent content being shared and posted on Parler, which the platform was not taking down.

What else is happening? The Texas abortion law is an extremely controversial piece of legislation, that many have protested as an attack on women’s rights and an infringement on their bodily autonomy. Many have also criticised the parameters of the law – which effect anyone even tangentially implicated in such abortions – as extending far beyond the reasonable parties.

In protest of the law, many private companies have chosen to stand with those directly affected. Bumble and Tinder- and Hinge-owner Match Group have joined forces to create a relief fund for individuals choosing to seek abortions. To protect any drivers who may become implicated in such cases by driving people to their appointments, Uber and Lyft have pledged to pay any arising legal costs.

Even individuals have entered the affray: before the website was taken down, protesters specifically targeting Texas Right to Life flooded its reporting tool with fake tips. A TikTok user even wrote code that would automatically spam the tool with fake tips every 10 to 15 seconds, also making it available for other TikTok users to copy.

The bottom line – In the last two years alone, companies have been called upon to engage with, and shown increasing appetite for, political action – from Black Lives Matter to voting rights. For many companies this action is limited to comments about wider society through internal reform, while others are taking it upon themselves to vocalise opposition against, and organise action around, political issues that are directly opposed to their brands’ ethos.

Worth noting – Under the new law, users on social media platforms posting content relating to abortions may be considered as “aiding and abetting” abortions, making the platforms liable for hosting such posts for public viewing. However… last week Texas also passed a law to uphold “free speech”, effectively prohibiting social media platforms from moderating any content on their sites. Try to figure that one out.

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