Abortion disinformation is growing and dangerously divisive

The abortion issue, both polarizing and emotional, is a perfect vessel for spreading divisive falsehoods.
Abortion rights activists protest
Abortion rights activists protest in the street near the U.S. Supreme Court on the last day of their term on June 30, 2022, in Washington, DC. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Twitter account struck an urgent tone the Sunday after the Supreme Court’s historic abortion ruling. She implored her 968,000 followers to have the “fortitude to act” against Department of Defense leaders for refusing to recognize the court’s decision, which eliminates the constitutional right to an abortion.

But DOD leaders never stated they would ignore the court’s ruling in the Dobbs v. Jackson case.

Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, repeated a trope that appears to have originated on a now suspended Twitter channel known as BNN Newsroom a day prior. The BNN post erroneously said the Pentagon would not recognize abortion laws implemented in the wake of Dobbs. It was shared more than 26,000 times before being deleted, the Associated Press reported.

While Taylor Greene’s call to her followers said DOD leadership had “wage(d) an insurrection against the Supreme Court,” the anodyne statement from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III was anything but that.

Austin’s statement, made in the hours after the court ruled, noted that the agency was “examining” the Dobbs’ decision and evaluating internal policies to ensure access to reproductive health care for service members and their families “as permitted by federal law.”

This bland statement spawned the BNN story which, in turn, led to the Taylor Greene tweet exclaiming that DOD leadership “must be removed.”

(Taylor Greene’s office did not return an email seeking comment).

Disinformation scholars said this incident exemplifies why the abortion issue, both polarizing and emotional, is a perfect vessel for spreading divisive falsehoods. Herb Lin, a senior research scholar for cyber policy and security at Stanford University, said he worries these qualities will make the mounting abortion wars an easy target for foreign interference. He pointed to how Russian influence operators hoping to provoke violence simultaneously promoted pro- and anti-Muslim rallies held at the same time and place during the run up to the 2016 election.

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