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, Mo., to share resources for people seeking abortions.
But Risinger’s phone notifications never stopped. Her small group has turned into a nationwide 30,000-member nexus for anger, heartfelt personal stories, and education among those concerned about a post-Roe America.
Risinger doesn’t understand how her Facebook group has grown 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.)
She was not ready for the time commitment or the responsibility of providing a place for people to express their feelings and find information about the rapidly changing legal status of abortion in the US. But she thinks she should do her best. “I don’t want to do this, but this is the world we live in,” Risinger told me.
That a woman became an unwitting leader of a major forum for abortion rights advocates shows that Facebook is still a place where Americans dispel their hopes and fears. Similar to Facebook groups created to promote the false claim of widespread election fraud in 2020, emotion can help online communities go viral in ways that surprise their creators and the company itself.
On Friday morning, Risinger was at work and seething. Within minutes of the Supreme Court ruling, her home state of Missouri passed an immediate “trigger law” banning abortion.
“I was so furious,” she told me this week. “I thought, okay, I can give people a place where they can come together.”
Risinger has experience overseeing other Facebook groups, and she started USA Camping Resource Center largely – or so she thought – for people around her who shared her anger and wanted to vent, to talk about what she was doing. could do or to provide assistance. “Maybe that could have worked if I and 10 people were around me,” she said.
Almost immediately it became much more than that. People have inundated the Facebook group with raw personal stories about having or refusing to have an abortion. And they ask a lot of questions about how these bans affect them.
Risinger said a woman in Missouri messaged the group because she was concerned about her legal risk from a planned procedure for implanted birth control. (Birth control remains legal across the US. The Kansas City Star has more information about access in Missouri.) Women also asked if data from period-tracking apps could be used by law enforcement to pursue a case against them. building for having an abortion. (Time-tracking apps can pose a risk, but other data can be taxing.)
For those seeking information, the group refers as much as possible to authoritative sources, including organizations experienced in abortion advocacy and assistance.
People seem to find out about the group mostly through word of mouth, and the response has surprised Risinger, who now finds herself moderating posts all the time, including minutes after running a race on Saturday.
But the group became very active very quickly, and Risinger said she felt overwhelmed. She said 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 way to avoid derailing the conversation was to create rules and strictly enforce them. The most important rule: “Don’t be a jerk”, and there is no room for discussion about abortion rights.
People who want to join the group must first indicate why they support ‘camping’. (Some people apparently think it’s a Facebook group about the outdoors.) Every newcomer and post is approved by a moderator, of which there are now about 20 that Risinger has turned on after the group got too big for one person.
To protect people from the security risks associated with offering rides or homes to strangers, the group began blocking posts suggesting personal assistance for abortion appointments.
For years, critics of Facebook have said groups on the site have become hubs for unchecked conspiracy theories or health misinformation. And fringe groups on Facebook and elsewhere online have spread false ideas or calls for violence in response to the Roe ruling. After Facebook flagged some comments in the Risinger 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 nonviolent.)
I asked Risinger how people’s behavior on Facebook might be different than in a personal community. Are people more emotionally vulnerable or cruel?
“Are people worse on Facebook than in real life? Almost always,’ she says. But then again, the group would never have expanded so quickly without social media, she said.
Risinger says she doesn’t know what the future holds for the Facebook community she created in a fit of anger. She hopes to harness people’s energy for productive action. There are discussions about mobilization around an August election in Kansas, in which voters will decide whether to remove the right to abortion from the state constitution.
“The momentum we have is something that I don’t miss,” Risinger said. “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure it’s put to good use.”
Tip of the week
Lessons from a hellish holiday plan
Hoo boy, Brian X. Chen, a consumer technology columnist for DailyExpertNews, has a very 2022 travel horror story. And he offers advice to avoid his 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 requirements about Covid-19 vaccines and test results, and carry a digital copy of your health records on your smartphone.
I have another well-deserved lesson from my own bad experience.
I booked plane tickets this year to fly across the country for a wedding in the fall. I used Hopper, a travel price comparator, to find and book the cheapest Delta flights.
I regret it. Delta has changed my flight schedule several times over the past few months and even canceled one of my connecting flights. After being on hold for over an hour to speak to a Delta representative, the company put me on another flight. Problem solved? No.
When I did not receive confirmation of my new ticket, I contacted again. A Delta representative told me that Hopper canceled the ticket after Delta changed it. The only way to reach Hopper is through email support, whose response can take up to 48 hours unless you’re willing to pay more.
After an email to Hopper and another phone call to Delta, the airline put me back on another flight. I sent Hopper another email asking the company not to touch the reservation. Crisis averted. I hope.
The lesson? Booking travel online simplifies the process. Airlines are understaffed and you may have to wait a long time for customer support. Travel booking services like Expedia and Hopper may save you money, but they may not be worth it.
Eliminate the middlemen and book directly with the airlines and hotels. For example, when you have problems you have to deal with one company and not two.
Read more summer travel advice from Seth Kugel, who tries to help Times readers solve travel problems.
Before we go…
Removing your menstrual tracker will not protect you. Text messages, e-mail receipts and Google searches contain more data about people who want to have an abortion than a tracker, wrote my colleague Kash Hill.
From Wednesday On Tech: Our data is a curse, with or without Roe.
Amazon has moved to restrict items and search results related to LGBTQ people and issues on its website in the United Arab Emirates after the government pressured the company, my colleague Karen Weise reported. It’s the latest example of tech companies making compromises to operate in restrictive countries.
“Everything happens so often.” That strange but perfect tweet posted a decade ago is regularly re-circulated 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.)
Hug for this
Running (sort of) the goats† Every summer, a park in New York City calls on goats to chew on invasive plants. They were released from the park on Wednesday, and not all of them are hollowing out for a while. (See what I did there?!)
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