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Tuesday, 23 July 2019
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Understanding the Problems with Abortion Ads Certification by Google

Reprinted in part with permission. Click here to read the original article in its entirety.

According to Google “In the United States, United Kingdom, and Ireland, if you want to run ads using keywords related to getting an abortion, you first need to be certified as an advertiser that either provides abortions or does not provide abortions. Depending on how you’re certified, Google will automatically generate one of the following in-ad disclosures for your abortion product or service ads: 'Provides abortions' or 'Does not provide abortions.' This policy applies to all Search ad formats.” 

The interesting thing about this is that these statements in regard to whether someone provides abortion or not are very broad in scope and therefore could be true of both abortion clinics and pregnancy clinics, and also could not true of abortion clinics and pregnancy centers – completely based on the context and definitions that are drawn out. 

For example,

  • Does provide abortion support and care after someone has had an abortion.
  • Does provide abortion information.
  • Does provide abortion risk assessments.
  • Does provide abortion alternatives that are desirable and chosen 90% of the time.
  • Does not provide abortion counseling after someone has had their abortion.

Fragmented/short sentences can be found lacking in definition/detail while having too much scope. Google understands gray hat tactics. Google is using a light gray hat tactic here to satisfy someone at the expense of someone else.

The original slogan of Google was “Don’t be evil.” I think Google needs to rethink its position on this topic to hold to its roots of not being evil.

I know this is a lot to think about and digest, so let's break down a couple of the issues that this new policy has uncovered:

A Lack of Evidence (Screenshots)

Why are all pregnancy centers being reprimanded by the actions of “some” and yet screenshots of these offensive ads are not present in any articles about this topic? 

Where are the screenshots of the abusive ads?

If a clinic is advertising with misleading ads, it is really easy to make a screenshot or take a photo to document/share/show the abusive ad. I see a complete lack of evidence and if there was evidence it would very clearly point to the offending party (because their website address would be listed) who could be held to Google’s policy for the appropriate consequences.

Word of Mouth

Over many years the #1 reason why a client comes into a pregnancy center has been word of mouth (by a professional and/or by a friend). Over the past several years, ‘internet’ has been cited as the next most common reason for someone to come in. The trend of internet passing word of mouth is starting to occur.

Google/Internet seems to be the space that is replacing the in-person word of mouth with digital reviews and online search results that are influencing people on where they would like to get services/information. This rule by Google is threatening the #1 vehicle of the future for reaching women in need of information about abortion – who feel alone and need to know that care is available. Many women cite that the care and listening ear of a pregnancy clinic counselor is the most impactful part of her experience and provides her with the courage and support to choose life for her child.

Global Monopoly & Government Influence

Let’s look at this from another angle. Google has a monopoly on search results – Google is not just the top player but effectively the only player worth playing with based on their huge amount of success.

I feel like the monopoly position that Google has – makes compliance into a necessity as we can’t go elsewhere for this opportunity/traffic.  Yahoo, Bing/Microsoft, AOL, and dogpile are not worth playing with as they make up such a small market share combined in the search result world.

If Amazon offended us, we could go back to Walmart.  If we are offended by McDonald's, we can go to Chic-fil-A.  If Google offends us (as advertisers and nonprofit organizations), we lose the people we are looking to reach who use Google.

This rule is targeting Pregnancy Centers. This policy by Google will directly impact pregnancy centers in a negative way while benefiting abortion clinics.

I found myself wondering if other groups have been held to the same standard of being marked as ‘what they don’t do’ by Google.  Is it ok for Alcoholics Anonymous to advertise when someone is searching for beer?  Is it ok for lung cancer awareness/prevention groups to advertise when someone searches for cigarettes?

Plausible Solution Approaching

When it comes to writing content, a single topic can be written about repeatedly from multiple angles which is a fundamental writing tactic. When it comes to abortion, compelling a certain angle is restricting one’s freedom of speech.  This new rule equates to a compelled speech by a for-profit entity forcing select people within its system to frame one’s words in a limited and restrictive angle.  NIFLA v. Becerra found this to be a violation of our 1st amendment right in the victory at the Supreme Court when compelled speech was dictated by the government.  Now we have a global monopoly beginning to abuse us in the same way but we don’t seem to have the same recourse.

Google does have content rules per country perhaps that reflects these countries working with Google or more likely Google reflecting these countries’ government’s laws and positions. So perhaps with this global monopoly, our government’s laws may provide relief just like Google bends to China’s demands in regards to content filtering. 

This new set of rules seem to be a reaction from Google after receiving a letter from Suzanne Bonamici, a Democratic congresswoman from Oregon.

Perhaps the solution is for life-minded representatives to write a letter on the competing set of ideas to provide the needed push-back for fairness to be found once again.

Backstory Items:

Editor's Note: At the time of publication, Google has not responded to questions from Heartbeat International regarding their new policy. 

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