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Facebook page where women tell their abortion stories deliberately sabotaged in online attack

In Her Shoes is a community of women who have had experiences with the Eighth Amendment.

Image: AFP/Getty Images

A PRO CHOICE Facebook page which aims to tell the stories of women who have had abortions was deliberately sabotaged by online trolls over the weekend.

In Her Shoes is a community of women who have had experiences with the Eighth Amendment.

It has over 50,000 followers and produces several posts a day in which anonymous women describe their experiences.

However over the weekend the page was flooded with more than 200 one- and two-star reviews, dragging the page’s overall rating down. Pages with lower rankings are seen as less trustworthy by users. These reviews were quickly counterbalanced by a number of five-star reviews by members of the existing community.

It is understood that much of the activity stemmed from at least one large pro-life Facebook group, with screengrabs from the group showing pro-life supporters over the weekend being urged by fellow users to leave negative reviews and comments on the In Her Shoes page.

On Monday, a large number of people reported the In Her Shoes page to Facebook for breaking its guidelines.

Subsequently, a number of people have also said that their Facebook pages have been locked due to reports after they left positive reviews of the page. These people were required to verify their accounts to Facebook before being granted access.

Around 80 of the negative reviews remain, along with 5,200 five-star reviews.

A post by the page’s administrators last night said:

“We would like to issue an apology to those that have been temporarily locked out of their account following attempts from pro-life organisations to silence women from sharing their lived experiences.

“Yesterday, pro-life accounts had been spamming and trolling numerous conversations within the In Her Shoes community. It is our duty to protect the people that are central to this conversation – women that have been negatively impacted by the 8th amendment.”

The post alleges that the reviews were driven through large pro-life American groups.

“Facebook has the duty to investigate and ensure that there are no bots, and accounts should resume as normal.

We are sorry for the inconvenience. We advise you to not accept messages or friend requests from accounts that you do not know. We strongly advise to not engage with anti-choice comments, as our focus is on supporting women.

“We will not be silenced.”

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The founder of the page, speaking anonymously to TheJournal.ie by email, said:

“Because of the sudden influx of attention on reviews, paired with pro-life activists reporting reviewers, and the page, Facebook subsequently ran an investigation on accounts to ensure that they are legitimate.

“Facebook users needed to verify their account, after a day their reviews were reinstated.

“There has been evidence of Irish pro-life campaigners calling on large pro-life American based Facebook groups to spam the page to take it down.

“These attempts have failed.

In Her Shoes – Women of the Eighth does not endorse communicating with, or retaliating against the anti-choice groups. We are committed to sharing women’s experiences that have been sent to us. We are committed to creating a safe space that is healing for them in removing stigma, shame, and silence.

“Their personal accounts tell of the negative impacts of the 8th amendment in women and girls lives in Ireland; From the lack of autonomy in continued pregnancy and birth, to accessing illegal abortions in Ireland or traveling to the UK.”

One woman who was locked out of her account told TheJournal.ie:

I was asked to verify that recent activity on my Facebook page had been carried out by me and not a hacker, such as adding people has friends and liking my friends photos and such. Given the stories in the news recently, I was worried that my personal data had been compromised somehow.
Then once I got back in to my account I saw dozens of my friends had had the same thing happen to them, it was bizarre and frankly a little creepy. Once I saw the apology posted by In Her Shoes explaining the situation, it all made sense, the common factor was that we had all posted a positive review of In Her Shoes the day before.

Last week it was reported that the Referendum Commission will have no role in overseeing social media campaigning or advertising in the abortion referendum.

In an article for the Irish Times, Judge Isobel Kennedy, the chair of the Referendum Commission, said that the commission doesn’t have “any role in the regulation or oversight of campaign funding, spending or advertising” and that it has no role in how social media may be used by various campaigns. The referendum on the repeal of the Eighth Amendment is to take place on 25 May of this year.

Facebook has been asked to comment on the locking of accounts.

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