When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday, Veronica Risinger started what she thought would be a small Facebook group for her neighbors in Kansas City, Missouri, to share resources for people seeking abortions.
But Risinger’s phone notifications never stopped. His small group has morphed into a 30,000-member national nexus for anger, candid personal stories, and education among people eager for a post-Roe America.
Risinger doesn’t understand how his Facebook group grew so large. At one point, she said, there were 10,000 people waiting to join the private group, USA Camping Resource Center. (“Camping” is a code word used in some online conversations about abortion.)
I wasn’t prepared for the time commitment and responsibility of providing people with a place to express their feelings and find information about the rapidly changing legal status of abortion in the US. But he feels that he must do the best he can. . “I don’t want to be doing this, but this is the world we live in,” Risinger told me.
That a woman became the involuntary leader of a large forum of abortion rights advocates shows that Facebook remains a place where Americans discuss their hopes and fears. Like the Facebook groups that sprung up to promote the false claim of widespread 2020 voter fraud, excitement can help online communities go viral in ways that shock their creators and the company itself.
On Friday morning, Risinger was at work and furious. Within minutes of the Supreme Court’s decision, her home state of Missouri enacted an immediate “trigger law” banning abortion.
“I was filled with so much rage,” she told me this week. “I thought, okay, I can give people a place where they can meet.”
Risinger has experience overseeing other Facebook groups, and founded the US Camping Resource Center largely, or so she thought, for people in her area who shared her anger and wanted to vent, talk about what they could do or offer help. “Maybe that could have worked if it was me and 10 people in my neighborhood,” she said.
Almost immediately, it became much more than that. People have flooded the Facebook group, telling raw personal stories about having an abortion or being denied one. And they ask a lot of questions about how these bans might affect them.
Risinger said a woman in Missouri messaged the group because she was concerned about the legal risk of a planned implanted birth control procedure. (Birth control is still legal in the US. The Kansas City Star has more about access in Missouri.) Women also asked if law enforcement could use data from period-tracking apps to build a case against them for having an abortion. (Period-tracking apps can be a risk, but other data can be more incriminating.)
For those seeking information, the group directs people as much as possible to authoritative sources, including organizations experienced in abortion promotion and assistance.
People seem to hear about the group mostly through word of mouth, and the response has surprised Risinger, who now finds himself moderating posts around the clock, even minutes after running a race on Saturday.
But the group became very active very quickly, and Risinger said she felt overwhelmed. She said that she quickly changed her plans: “We had the group before we really knew what we were doing.”
As is done in many other Facebook groups, Risinger decided that the best approach to keep the conversation from going off the rails was to set rules and strictly enforce them. The main rule: “Don’t be an idiot”, and there is no room for debate on the right to abortion.
People who want to join the group must first answer why they support “camping”. (Apparently some people think it’s an outdoor Facebook group.) Each newcomer, as well as each post, is approved by a moderator, of which there are now around 20 that Risinger recruited after the group became too large for one person to handle.
To protect people from the safety risks that could arise from offering rides or homes to strangers, the group began blocking posts that offered personal assistance for abortion appointments.
Critics of Facebook have said for years that groups on the site have become hubs for unchecked conspiracy theories or health misinformation. And fringe groups on Facebook and elsewhere online have spread misconceptions or calls for violence in response to the Roe ruling. After Facebook flagged some comments in Risinger’s group for violating the company’s rules against violence and incitement, it told members to stop suggesting violence as a solution to problems. (Everything I read in the group was respectful and non-violent).
I asked Risinger how people’s behavior might be different on Facebook than in an in-person community. Are people more emotionally vulnerable or more cruel?
“Are people worse on Facebook than in real life? Almost always yes,” she said. But on the other hand, the group would never have expanded so quickly without social media, he said.
Risinger says he doesn’t know what the future holds for the Facebook community he created in a fit of rage. She hopes to harness the energy of people in productive actions. There are discussions about mobilization around the August election in Kansas, in which voters will decide whether to remove abortion rights from the state constitution.
“The momentum that we have is something that is not lost on me,” Risinger said. “I will do my best to make sure it is put to good use.”
tip of the week
Lessons from a vacation plan from hell
Hoo boy, Brian X. Chen, a consumer tech columnist for The New York Times, has a very 2022 travel horror story. And he offers tips for avoiding your bad experience.
Last year I wrote a column about using technology to make travel plans in a pandemic. That advice still applies: Check your destination’s travel and tourism websites for potential COVID-19 vaccination requirements and test results, and carry a digital copy of your health data with you. smartphone.
I have another hard-earned lesson from my own bad experience.
I booked plane tickets this year to fly across the country for a fall wedding. I used Hopper, a travel price comparison service, to find and book the cheapest Delta flights.
I regret it. In the past few months, Delta has changed my flight itinerary several times and even canceled one of my connecting flights. After waiting on hold for over an hour to speak with a Delta representative, the company put me on a different flight. Problem solved? Nope.
When I did not receive a confirmation of my new ticket, I contacted again. A Delta representative told me that Hopper had canceled the ticket after Delta changed it. The only way to contact Hopper is via email support, which may take up to 48 hours to respond to unless you wish to pay more.
After an email to Hopper and another call to Delta, the airline put me on a different flight again. I sent another email to Hopper, asking the company not to touch the reservation. crisis averted. Wait.
The lesson? If you’re booking travel online, simplify the process. Airlines are short-staffed and you may have to wait long waits for customer service. Travel booking services like Expedia and Hopper can save you money, but it may not be worth it.
Cut out the middleman and book directly with airlines and hotels. That way, if you run into problems, you’re dealing with one company and not two.
Read more summer travel tips from Seth Kugel, who tries to help Times readers solve their travel problems.
Before we go…
Removing your period record will not protect you. Text messages, email receipts and Google searches contain more data about abortion seekers than a tracker, my colleague Kash Hill wrote.
From Wednesday’s On Tech: Our data is a curse, with or without Roe.
Amazon took action to restrict articles and search results related to LGBTQ people and topics on its website in the United Arab Emirates after government pressure on the company, my colleague Karen Weise reported. It is the latest example of compromises that technology companies make to operate in restrictive countries.
“Everything happens so much.” That weird but perfect tweet posted 10 years ago is regularly recirculated when people feel overwhelmed by what’s going on around them, The Atlantic explained. There’s also a mysterious backstory to what appeared to be a computer-generated Twitter account, but wasn’t. (A subscription may be required.)
a hug to this
The running (more or less) of the goats. Every summer, a park in New York City recruits goats to munch on invasive plants. They were released in the park on Wednesday, and not all of them are exactly hopping. (See what I did there?!)
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