Advertisement
Engadget
Why you can trust us

Engadget has been testing and reviewing consumer tech since 2004. Our stories may include affiliate links; if you buy something through a link, we may earn a commission. Read more about how we evaluate products.

Meta and Google face claims of restricting reproductive health ads and fueling misinformation

A new report accuses the companies of misdoings in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Francis Mascarenhas / reuters

A new report found Meta and Google are restricting reproductive health information in Asia, Africa and Latin America. MSI Reproductive Choices and the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which partnered on the report, claim that the companies have restricted local abortion providers' ads and allowed misinformation to fester, among other misdoings.

Take Mexico, which decriminalized abortion in 2023 but where services are not yet legal in all 32 of its states. Meta won't allow MSI to share abortion-related ad content in the country due to remaining bans. However, the local team reported that other sexual and reproductive health content has also received blocks. MSI's teams in Nepal and Vietnam echoed this issue, with Meta allegedly removing ads promoting cervical cancer screenings and information on IUDs and contraceptive pills, respectively. MSI now has a "blanket advertising ban" from Meta in the two countries and claims the company provided no clear justification. Ghana's team reported Google blocked their ads with the phrase "pregnancy options."

"Women and girls are being neglected by these major tech platforms who are putting their bottom lines above the public good," Whitney Chinogwenya, marketing specialist at MSI Reproductive Choices, said in a statement. "Accurate online information is a lifeline for those seeking timely care and facts about their reproductive options. Yet anti-choice groups are able to spread disinformation and toxic narratives online with impunity. And what is worse, platforms like Google and Meta are currently enabling, and profiting from this dangerous propaganda."

MSI's teams in Ghana, Kenya and Nepal expressed difficulty connecting with Meta and receiving information on why their ads were limited — though Bangladesh's team was able to get in contact and resolve their issues. Kenya, Nigeria and Vietnam faced another problem: imitation Facebook pages and websites, sometimes with nothing different than a phone number. MSI requested that Meta and Google remove these scammers (some of which requested money from prospective clients) but claims the companies delayed action or took none.

Researchers gathered evidence through correspondence and interviews with MSI's teams in locations such as Bangladesh, Ghana, Kenya, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, South Africa and Vietnam. Further information came from an analysis of Meta's Ad Library, which the report claims showed evidence of the company displaying and profiting from false or misleading anti-abortion ads in Ghana and Mexico. Users reportedly in these two countries viewed these ads up to one million times between 2019 and 2024. Approved ads included claims that "global powers and international companies" paid for decriminalizing abortion movements to "eliminate the Mexican population."

The report also looks at abuse directed at MSI's workers in Kenya, which the organization claimed Meta turns a "blind eye" towards. Ghana's team reported anti-choice organizations have used WhatsApp, a Meta-owned platform, to pedal conspiracies around family planning being a method to depopulate Africa and MSI's workers "introducing 'satanic' sexual education in schools to 'destroy the youth.'"

The Center for Countering Digital Hate's CEO and founder, Imran Ahmed, accuses social media companies of mining "users' personal data in the Global South but take little care to protect local human rights and civil liberties. It reeks of colonialism — the greed, arrogance and double standards in how they treat less-wealthy markets. They have little regard or understanding of the complex cultural and political factors that can deprive people of their legal right to reproductive healthcare, nor do they grasp that the uneven application of their own content moderation policies greatly exacerbates these problems."

According to Google, it can't say why any ad or campaign was blocked without seeing the specific ad or advertiser account. It also said that ads targeting the term pregnancy options in Ghana and the other countries listed aren't prohibited. “This report does not include a single example of policy violating content on Google’s platform, nor any examples of inconsistent enforcement," a Google spokesperson told Engadget. "Without evidence, it claims that some ads were blocked in Ghana for referencing ‘pregnancy options’. To be clear, these types of ads are not prohibited from running in Ghana – if the ads were restricted, it was likely due to our longstanding policies against targeting people based on sensitive health categories, which includes pregnancy.”

Meta is reviewing the findings, but spokesperson, Ryan Daniels told The Guardian: "We allow posts and ads promoting healthcare services, as well as discussion and debate around them. Content about reproductive health must follow our rules, including those on prescription drugs and misinformation, and ads promoting reproductive health products or services may only be targeted to people 18-plus. We prohibit ads that include misinformation or mislead people about services a business provides, and we will review the content of this report."

Engadget has reached out to Meta for further comment.

Update, March 28 2024, 10:20PM ET: This article has been updated to include a statement and further information from Google.