“Anti-choice groups use smartphone surveillance to target ‘abortion-minded women’ during clinic visits.”
That was the title of a recent Rewire article by Sharon Coutts. The impetus of the article was the new advertising strategy employed by Bethany Christian Services, an adoption agency, and RealOptions, a chain of pregnancy resource centers. The campaign, invented by John Flynn of Copley Advertising, targets individuals based on their internet searches and their location.
I was once looking to buy a particular sweater. The next thing I knew there were ads for women’s sweaters everywhere I went – on Facebook, on blogs, on the news sites I checked. The same thing is going on here – if a woman’s internet searches suggest she might be seeking abortion, these two pro-life companies want her to come across their ads.
The only new thing here is that these ads will specifically appear when she has walked through the doors of a clinic. They will appear as in-app ads, that she will only see if 1) she opens an app with ads while she’s in the clinic and 2) she has allowed the app to use her location.
So these ads will reach women under perfectly legal and very narrow circumstances. But you might not get that from reading the Rewire article, which makes it sound as if these women will be getting texts straight to their phone with negative abortion messaging. The art accompanying the article is a cartoon picture depicting a woman in a waiting room opening her phone and three black-cloaked, ghostly-looking white men coming out of her device and hovering over her holding signs that say “baby killer” and “abortion is murder.”
This cartoon would almost be pardonable if these were the kinds of messages being sent to women in abortion clinic waiting rooms. But they aren’t. The kinds of messages that pro-life groups are sending simply advertise that if you are pregnant or considering abortion, you can learn about your options at a specific website.
It’s advertising, sure, but it’s not demonic possession.
1) not only is this advertising campaign perfectly legal and not exactly revolutionary, but 2) the use of the location services, which seems to so distress Rewire, seems to mean less pro-life advertisements in the world rather than more – it’d be like if I only saw the sweater ads when I went into a clothing store and got on an app instead of every time I went on the Internet.
The fact that Coutts skews the facts is only the beginning of the problem with her piece. I could go on about her flagrant throwing around of PC buzzwords or total blindness to the possibility that their might exist a reader who would so much as question the subtle assertion that “anti-choice groups” or “radical Christians” are anything other than backwards villains.
I wish that she had dealt specifically and thoroughly with the ethics of advertising and data-collection, or with the role of regulation in media, or even with an argument that women in abortion clinics should be legally protected from related advertising. Because that at least would have been coherent and honest. But instead the article assumed its audience already agreed, sneered at those it disagreed with, and danced around all of these ideas without making any clear points.
This article is just one of many examples that the abortion conversation has changed – that in fact, the conversation is dead. There are no more debates with opposing views arguing their points, seeking to persuade. It is now a black and white ideological divide – two sides that see two different realities and speak two different languages. We no longer reason together.
The temptation now is to shout each other down. But a thirst for the truth and critical reasoning will always be indispensable to justice. So for those who stand firmly against abortion, we should always be prepared to defend our views clearly, knowing that our efforts will be willfully misperceived by many of this age.
And we must point it out when stories are told with a slant and demand a higher standard from our media.