Live Action, a leading online pro-life organization with more than 3 million followers, says it is weighing its legal options after Pinterest removed its account and placed its content on a list with pornographic sites — an action that appears to be part of a pattern of censorship against pro-life perspectives by some leading social-media platforms.
“These large platforms have become our online or virtual public square,” said Lila Rose, the founder and president of Live Action. “To be banned from them … I think is a form of censorship.”
The issue attracted board media interest last month after the investigative news site Project Veritas reported on Pinterest’s suppression of Live Action.
It isn’t the first time that Live Action has faced censorship or suppression by a social-media giant.
Since 2015, Twitter has blocked Live Action and Lila Rose from advertising on its platform, saying it will only reinstate advertising if Live Action removes all content from its website and social-media accounts relating to abortion procedures, Planned Parenthood investigations and ultrasounds. Live Action has faced a double censorship on YouTube — it cannot run ads on its own videos, and it cannot advertise its videos to others, according to Rose.
Live Action has also run into problems with advertising on Facebook, but the social-media giant has claimed the issues are accidental, according to Rose.
Live Action isn’t the only pro-life group to face censorship or suppression online.
Recently, Christian satire site Babylon Bee’s post likening abortion to slavery was removed by censors at Instagram. In March, Twitter banned an image of Mother Teresa with a quotation from her about abortion that had been tweeted by Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List. Last year, Facebook scrapped campaign ads posted by the group. Two pro-life films, Unplanned and the upcoming Roe v. Wade, have also run into resistance by social-media companies.
“There is an alarm going off amongst conservatives,” said Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. “It does seem to me that it’s pro-life people — it’s people of faith, people of more of a conservative bent, who seem to be singled out.”
In the spring, Donohue signed onto the Free Speech Alliance, spearheaded by the Media Research Center. The group warns that social-media companies have silenced conservative speech online.
Donohue said the alliance is advocating for greater transparency from companies like Facebook and Twitter and asking for more clarity on how they define hate speech.
The Heritage Foundation in Washington has also begun to research the issue, according to Melanie Israel, a research associate at the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at Heritage.
“It is people speaking on the more cultural issues,” Israel said. “We’re not seeing people who disagree on tax rates being censored like this.”
“While we’re not specifically talking about a First Amendment issue with government silencing people, yes, this is censorship,” Israel said. “They’re wanting to have their cake and eat it, too. They want to talk the talk about having a platform and diversity of opinions and open forum, but that’s not what they’re doing. They can’t have it both ways — and it’s really hypocritical.”
It appears that the outcry among social conservatives reached the White House.
Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported that administration officials were convening a July 11 meeting for a “social-media summit.” The Media Research Center and the Heritage Foundation are among those invited.
However, critics like Donohue and Israel aren’t necessarily calling for government intervention. Donohue said he would support congressional hearings as a good first step.
Israel said the Heritage Foundation’s emphasis is on defending the merits of freedom of speech in social-media platforms. Israel begins by acknowledging that both sides of issues like abortion or marriage are not going to come to an agreement. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t have the conversation at all,” she said.
Engaging in dialogue on places like Facebook and Twitter, she said, helps each side to understand the other’s motives. “I think in a lot of ways it helps to just humanize the other side,” Israel said.
Platforms vs. Publishers
Rose said there may be cause for government regulators to get involved because social-media companies are protected as platforms rather than publishers. As platforms they are not liable for content that is published on their sites or services — just like an internet provider isn’t charged when people plan a crime online, Rose said.
But publishers are held liable for content that they produce. By picking and choosing ideological winners and shaping the narrative, Rose said companies like Twitter and Pinterest are acting more like editors of a publication than providers of a platform.
Rose said Live Action has also considered its legal options for YouTube and Twitter and now is exploring what those options might be for Pinterest. She said Twitter, for example, could have engaged in false advertising about its service. Rose said Live Action was initially told it could advertise on Twitter, and the group did its best to follow Twitter’s guidelines.
Live Action’s ads were allowed to run, but then they were later blocked. Asked for comment, a representative for Twitter provided this statement: “The @LiveAction and @LilaGraceRose Twitter Ads accounts are ineligible to advertise on the Twitter Ads platform due to repeated violations of our Twitter Ads policies. They can, however, continue to tweet organically as long as they comply with the Twitter Terms of Service and the Twitter Rules.”
Twitter’s advertising policies include prohibitions on adult sexual content, hate speech and “inappropriate content.” The company’s guidelines on hate speech and inappropriate content do not make any mention of content that opposes the “right to choose.”
Pinterest did not respond to a Register request for comment, but in a response to a request for comment from another organization, the company said that Live Action was placed on its pornography list due to “misinformation related to conspiracies and anti-vaccination advice.” But Rose says Live Action has taken no position on vaccinations, and she denies any involvement in conspiracy theories.
Live Action’s ads were later blocked, but the content of its ads had stayed the same, suggesting, Rose said, another motive. “They decided we were getting too successful and our message was getting too strong and then they wanted to squash it,” Rose said.
Other Ways of Communicating
Beyond potential legal measures, Live Action is also taking steps to diversify its content. Rose said it has expanded on to other platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and Quora. Live Action is also working on collecting the contact information for its millions of followers so it can communicate directly with them, according to Rose.
Rose says it’s important for the public to speak out against censorship and for whistleblowers like Eric Cochran — the software engineer who exposed Pinterest's censorship— to step up.
“I’ve very concerned about the future of censorship online,” Rose said. “It’s corrosive to public discourse and freedom of speech. These are our public forums today. This is where content is shared. This is where news is shared. This is where we make up our minds, decide our positions on things. It impacts elections.”
Stephen Beale writes from Providence, Rhode Island.