Post-row, his Facebook group went viral

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday, Veronica Rasinger started what she thought would be a small Facebook group for her neighbors in Kansas City, US, to share resources for abortion seekers.

But the messages on Risinger’s phone never stopped. Her small group has grown into a 30,000-member nationwide network of outrage, honest personal stories, and education among people concerned about Row America.

Risinger doesn’t understand how his Facebook group grew so big. At one point, he said, there were 10,000 people waiting to get in at a private group, the USA Camping Resource Center. (“Camping” is a code word used in some online conversations about abortion.)

She wasn’t ready for the time commitment or 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 feels she must do what she can. . “I don’t want to do it, but that’s the world we live in,” Rissinger told me.

That one woman has become the unwitting leader of a major abortion rights forum shows that Facebook remains a place where Americans’ hopes and fears are converging. As was the case with Facebook groups that sprung up to support false claims of widespread 2020 election fraud, emotions can help online communities go viral in ways that surprise their creators and the company itself.

On Friday morning, Risinger was at work and it was raining. Within minutes of the Supreme Court’s decision, the state of Missouri passed an immediate “trigger law” banning abortion.

“I was filled with such rage,” he told me this week. “I thought, well, I can give people a place where they can gather.”

Reisinger has experience overseeing other Facebook groups, and he created the USA Camping Resource Center mainly — or so he thought — for people in his area who shared his anger and wanted to vent, talk about what they could do or offer to help. “It might have worked if it was me and 10 people in my neighborhood,” he said.

Almost immediately, it became much more. People flooded the Facebook group with personal stories of having or refusing to have an abortion. And they ask a lot of questions about how these bans might affect them.

Risinger said a woman in Missouri sent the group because she was concerned about the legal risk of a planned implantable birth control procedure. (Birth control remains legal in the US. The Kansas City Star has more information on access in Missouri.) The women also asked whether data from period-tracking apps could be used by law enforcement to prosecute them for abortions. (Period tracking apps can be a risk, but other data can be more incriminating.)

For those seeking information, the group does its best to direct people to authoritative sources, including organizations experienced in abortion advocacy and assistance.

People seem to find out about the group mostly by word of mouth, and the response has surprised Rissinger, who now finds herself monitoring posts at all hours, including minutes after the race on Saturday.

But the group quickly became too active, and Rissinger said he felt overwhelmed. He said he quickly changed his plans: “We had a band before we knew what we were doing.”

As they do in many other Facebook groups, Risinger decided that the best approach to keep the conversation from going off the rails was to make rules and enforce them strictly. The main rule: “don’t be a jerk” and there is no room for debate on abortion rights.

People who want to join the group must first answer why they support camping. (Some seem to believe it’s an outdoor Facebook group.) Each newcomer, as well as each post, is approved by a moderator, of whom there are now about 20 people enrolled after the group grew too large for one person.

To protect people from the safety risks that can come with offering rides or homes to strangers, the group began blocking posts that offered personal assistance for abortion appointments.

Critics of Facebook have argued for years that groups on the site have become hotbeds of unverified conspiracy theories or health misinformation. And online groups on Facebook and elsewhere have spread false ideas or calls for violence in response to Roy’s decision. After Facebook flagged several comments in Risinger’s group as violating the company’s rules against violence and incitement, it told members to stop offering violence as a solution to problems. (Everything I read in the group was respectful and non-violent.)

I asked Risinger how people might behave differently on Facebook than in a private community. Are people more emotionally vulnerable or more cruel?

“Are people on Facebook worse than in real life?” Almost always yes,” he said. But on the other hand, the group would never have expanded so quickly without social media, he said.

Risinger says he doesn’t know what to expect from the Facebook community he created out of anger. It hopes to harness people’s energy into productive action. There is a discussion on mobilization around the August election in Kansas, where voters will decide whether to remove the right to abortion from the state constitution.

“The momentum that we have is something that hasn’t been lost on me,” Rissinger said. “I’ll do everything I can to make sure it’s put to good use.”

Tip of the week

yeah boy Brian X. ChenThe New York Times’ consumer technology columnist has a very 2022 travel horror story. And he offers advice to avoid his bad experience.

Last year, I wrote a column about using tech to make travel plans during a pandemic. This advice still applies: Check your destination’s travel and tourism websites for potential requests for Covid-19 vaccines and test results, and carry a digital copy of your health data on your smartphone.

I have another hard-earned lesson from my own bad experience.

This year I booked plane tickets to fly across the country to a wedding in the fall. I used Hopper, a travel price comparison service, to find and book the cheapest Delta flights.

IM sorry. Over the past few months, Delta has rerouted my flight several times and canceled one of my connecting flights. After waiting over an hour to speak with a Delta representative, the company put me on another flight. Is the problem solved? No.

When I did not receive confirmation of the new ticket, I applied again. A Delta representative told me that Hopper canceled the ticket after Delta made the change. The only way to contact Hopper is through email support, which can take up to 48 hours to respond unless you want to pay more.

After an email to Hopper and another call to Delta, the airline put me back on another flight. I sent another email to Hopper asking the company not to touch the booking. Averted a crisis. I hope.

lesson? If you’re booking travel online, simplify the process. Airlines are short-staffed, and you may experience long waits for customer support. Travel booking services like Expedia and Hopper may save you money, but they may not be worth it.

Cut out the middlemen and book directly with airlines and hotels. That way, if you run into problems, you’re dealing with one company, not two.

Read more summer travel tips From Seth Kugel, who tries to help Times readers with their travel woes.

  • Deleting your period tracker will not protect you. Text messages, email receipts and Google searches contain more data about people seeking abortions than a tracker, my colleague Kash Hill wrote.

    From Wednesday’s On Tech: Our data is a curse, with or without help.

  • Amazon made the move after the government put pressure on the company to limit search results and items related to LGBTQ people and issues in the United Arab Emirates, my colleague Karen Weiss reported. It’s the latest example of the trade-offs tech companies are making to operate in restricted countries.

  • “Everything happens that way.” The weird-but-perfect tweet posted 10 years ago is regularly shared when people feel overwhelmed by what’s going on around them, The Atlantic explained. There’s also a mysterious back story about what appeared to be a computer-generated Twitter account, but wasn’t. (Subscription may be required.)

Running goats (sort of).. Every summer, a park in New York forces goats to eat invasive plants. They were released into the park on Wednesday, and not all of them are exactly hitting it off. (See what I did there?!)

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