In a move that has since brought a lot of controversy and concern over the platform, Meta has allowed cops in Nebraska to access a teen’s personal DMs in order to prosecute her for abortion.
The case however is a bit more complicated than that.
The seventeen-year-old teen in question, Celeste Burgess, and her mother, Jessica Burgess, were both charged in July after local police received a tip that Celeste had a miscarriage at 23 weeks and with the help of her mother, buried the fetus in secret. Celeste told the police she had a miscarriage, but a search warrant was used to access both Celeste’s and Jessica’s Facebook accounts and read their conversations.
It was then discovered that Celeste had indeed aborted her baby with the help of her mother at 24 weeks. In Nebraska, abortions over 20 weeks are against the law.
A Meta spokesperson has since clarified that the information wasn’t granted without reason or due procedures. When approached by the authorities, it was under a criminal investigation over a stillborn baby that was either buried or burned, with no mention of abortion. The police had a search warrant which granted them access to the messages and Meta wasn’t allowed to share any information with the media under non-disclosure, but that limitation has since ended.
The news blew up and sparked a number of debates over women’s safety on social media. A young woman’s personal conversations with her mother were used to convict her of abortion in a state where abortion is not widely accessible.
The hashtag #DeleteFacebook started trending, particularly among women that feared such an egregious invasion of privacy.
There have been other concerns regarding abortion on social media and tracking apps. Google deletes tracking data from users that use their engine to search for abortion services, but there are many periods tracking apps with data that could potentially be used to determine if an abortion took place. For this reason, many young women say that these apps should be avoided, seeing as their data can potentially be used for targeted marketing.
But the problem is far deeper than that because there are hundreds of tech giants in the world constantly collecting information. Facebook has been exposed in the past for selling or leaking the personal information of millions of users during the election year to public agencies looking to capitalize on focus groups.
Even worse, it opens the door for a number of privacy invasions, whether they can be considered warranted or not. For Celeste, what was meant to be a private and potentially traumatic matter between her and her mother has now been made public to the world.
In a world where police can get a search warrant for accessing your private DMs and using them against you in court – over an anonymous tip –, most people seem to realize just how fragile their privacy truly is in today’s modern world.