Google Maps is misleading users looking for abortion clinics…and the GOP is threatening the company if it fixes it
from politicizing-trust-and-security-is-dangerous department
Earlier this week, Bloomberg published a well-researched and somewhat damning article highlighting how people looking for abortion clinics on Google Maps are often misled into going to “crisis pregnancy centers.” , which are sketchy organizations designed to try to convince women to give birth.
Google Maps routinely misleads people looking for abortion providers, according to new analysis from Bloomberg News. When users type the words “abortion clinic” into Maps’ search bar, crisis pregnancy centers account for about a quarter of the top 10 search results on average in all 50 US states, plus Washington DC, according to data collected by Bloomberg in July. In 13 states, including Arkansas, South Carolina and Idaho, where the procedure is newly restricted, five or more of the top 10 results were from CPCs, not abortion clinics.
The article has a nice interactive chart showing the details of each state. I recommend clicking to see the interactive elements, but here is the static image:
The article also has a fun (I mean, depending on your definition of fun) “abortion clinic or crisis center” quiz that shows how the two often look nearly identical and can be indistinguishable from each other.
The article credibly demonstrates that women are deceived by these misleading results on Google Maps. And, also, that these errors can be extremely detrimental to these women.
But, what it leaves out is the absolutely stupid political fight behind some of this, driven by years of media and politicians arguing over how every internet company should moderate, with threats that come and go if sites don’t moderate the way this or that politician wants.
Indeed, the story of the crisis pregnancy center is a great example of this and one we’ve covered before. Democrats told Google it should demote Crisis Pregnancy Centers in its search results. Meanwhile, Republican attorneys general literally threatened to sue the company if they did.
The objectively correct thing to do is for Google to remove these results, or at the very least make it very clear that they are not abortion clinics and do not have medical professionals on staff .
But all of this goes to show how difficult it is when politicians start demanding moderation of websites. It also highlights how trust, safety, and content moderation decisions can be about much bigger things than “when do we ban the harassing asshole?”
The fact that we are now politicizing issues of trust and security is a dangerous turn. Businesses should be free to determine how best to moderate without fear of having to challenge every decision. This is the purpose of Section 230…and all the grandstanding about it is also part of the reason why politicians from both parties are trying to dismantle this law.
Filed Under: abortion, content moderation, crisis pregnancy centers, policy, research findings, trust and safety