The Limbik Deep Dive Series: The ‘Forced Abortion’ Narrative

In the lead-up to the Dobbs ruling, the landmark decision of the Supreme Court that ruled the U.S. Constitution does not confer the right to abortion, political and legal debate was accompanied by various mis-,dis-, and malinformation (MDM) narratives related to abortion. Meanwhile, social media platforms have been complicit in the spread of abortion-related MDM, and search platforms have been biased in the search results and advertisements they push when users search for the term “abortion”. With search and social media platforms propagating blatantly false narratives, there is even less common ground to discuss the contentious issue of the right to abortion.

Limbik noticed an increase in thematic overlap of sex trafficking and abortion as the implications and controversy surrounding the Dobbs ruling continues to elicit strong responses and an evolution of conspiracy theories that blend fact, fiction, and speculation. With the “Forced Abortion” narrative, some users have conflated the discourse around abortion with the threat of human trafficking, positing that there is now an increase in traffickers forcing (unsafe) abortion on victims. This narrative plays on the familiar predicament in trafficking MDM that amplifies and warps real trafficking threats to create hyperbolic fiction at the expense of actual trafficking victims. As discussed in a previous Limbik Deep Dive, the repercussions such misrepresentation can have on efforts combatting actual human trafficking are many.

Potential for Impact

The Potential for Impact (PFI) of the “Forced Abortion” narrative has been evaluated weekly by Limbik since July 6. As a reminder, PFI is a predictive metric and, in this case, assesses how the narrative that traffickers are abducting pregnant women to abort their babies will resonate with the U.S. adult population.

  • The average PFI, high narrative PFI, and low narrative PFI lines all refer to other human trafficking-related MDM narratives Limbik is evaluating.

  • If the PFI for a particular narrative is greater than 100, this means the narrative has an increased likelihood of resonating with the U.S. adult population and therefore poses a higher risk. If the PFI for a narrative is less than 100, the narrative has a lower likelihood of resonating with the U.S. adult population (and therefore poses a manageable risk).

  • Of note, in the four monitoring periods since Limbik started evaluating “Forced Abortion”, it garnered the highest PFI of all human trafficking narratives twice, and has consistently recorded an above-average PFI.

  • Through Limbik’s Believability metric, it was established that 30% of U.S. adults would find artifacts purporting the “Forced Abortion” narrative believable, demonstrating the highly emotive nature of the debate around abortion might serve as a gateway to the believability of abortion-related MDM narratives.

Source(s): Tumblr, Twitter

Foreign Influence

Although “Forced Abortion” is a U.S.-centered narrative, week-over-week its Foreign Influence, i.e., the percentage of related artifacts that can be attributed to known or likely foreign actors, has oscillated. For example, the 22% of artifacts originating outside the United States in the last week of July, originated predominantly from the United Kingdom and Nigeria - the latter is of import as it could potentially mean it is being used as a proxy for Russia to propagate this narrative inorganically. It is of note that the significant increase in PFI for the “Forced Abortion” narrative on August 4th was preceded in the previous monitoring period by a significant uptick in FI. This could potentially indicate that a successful foreign influence operation took place regarding a highly divisive topic within the U.S. and was subsequently amplified domestically.

While states curtail access or uphold the right to abortion, abortion-related MDM artifacts will see continued interaction and get muddled with other conspiracy theories, including QAnon conspiracies. The “Forced Abortion” narrative shows that pushing back against the barrage of disinformation propagated by anti-abortion activists sometimes leads to misrepresentations of the phenomenon of abortion itself by those seeking to uphold it. It remains up to social media platforms and search engines to foster an information landscape that reflects the facts and science of abortion and women’s health.

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