Artemisas: the pitfalls of online activism

Artemisas: the pitfalls of online activism
Content Moderation

In 2022, the feminist organization Artemisas, dedicated to advocacy issues in Colombia, had a hard time promoting on Instagram El estallido, a documentary about the social protests of recent years in Colombia. 

Although the promotional pieces - snippets showing some scenes from newscasts, statements by politicians and images of demonstrations - did not breach the platform's rules, uploading them to Instagram became a struggle against the algorithm's unpredictable decisions. Once posted, the videos went almost unnoticed. While the rest of the content reached thousands of reproductions, these pieces had much lower levels of interaction and were sometimes removed for violating content policies, although it was never expressly stated what the reason for sanctioning them was.

The platform offers the possibility to appeal when a sanction is received, but this path was not a solution either. As in other cases related to Instagram, appeals, even if they were sent over and over again, never received a response. This failure is doubly detrimental, because in addition to taking away users' opportunity to amend a possible mistake by the platform, they are denied the possibility of following the process established by Meta, which allows users dissatisfied with a decision to appeal a second time before the Oversight Board, an independent body that resolves moderation cases as a last instance.

The problem with El estallido adds to a series of difficulties Artemisas has had in carrying its message through Instagram. In addition to this documentary, the organization has encountered obstacles in promoting one of the most important issues on its agenda: the voluntary interruption of pregnancy.

Like other organizations with similar agendas around the world, Artemisas has had to deal with the restrictions of Meta's advertising policies. These rules are much stricter than the community rules, i.e. those that regulate what can and cannot be said on the platform - organic content. Social media companies tend to place much more requirements on content that is promoted through ads, and therefore prevent advertising about weapons, adult content or sensationalist content, to name three issues that can be somewhat talked about when there is no ad involved.

Although these policies do not explicitly prevent abortion from being discussed, several feminist organizations around the world have denounced that Meta has not allowed them to publish informative content related to the voluntary interruption of pregnancy. In such cases, according to spokeswomen for these organizations, the reasons given by the company for denying this type of publications resort to all kinds of interpretations of its advertising policies, from the rules that prohibit advertising products or services for sexual health to those that prohibit content that affirms or suggests personal attributes. According to Marthe Dimitratou, digital strategist at Women on Web, through these excuses Instagram and Facebook are "suppressing and hiding vital information for people who need it." 

Organizations in favor of voluntary termination of pregnancy advance their work in line between unclear sanctions and security alerts.

In addition to these restrictions, Artemisas has been exposed to security attacks when sharing content related to her cause on Instagram. At the end of August, after live-streaming a public hearing in the Congress of the Republic, her account received a security alert for having detected "suspicious activity", for which the platform decided to block her permanently.

Security alert received by Artemisas after broadcasting the abortion hearing in Congress.

It is possible that behind this action of the platform there was an attempt to attack the account. In fact, the episode is related to one that occurred at the end of last year, when the Twitter account of lawyer and columnist Ana Bejarano was temporarily restricted for security reasons after appearing in a live broadcast with a T-shirt in favor of abortion rights, which at that time was being discussed by the Constitutional Court in Colombia. On that occasion, the platform took the measure because apparently someone was trying to access her account.

Organizations in favor of voluntary termination of pregnancy advance their work in line between unclear sanctions and security alerts. But the obstacles encountered by these organizations have an additional aggravating factor: the reversal of the progressive agenda in other parts of the world. This is the case of the reversal of Roe v. Wade, which for fifty years allowed the right to abortion in the United States. As in other scenarios, the context of that country has ended up impacting the rules of the digital debate in other areas, and has left the platforms in the middle of a scenario that forces them to act in accordance with court decisions that conflict with women's sexual and reproductive rights.

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