A widely shared meme on Instagram during the debate on pro-life bills in Georgia and Alabama in May.

A widely shared meme on Instagram during the debate on pro-life bills in Georgia and Alabama in May.

Social media is a platform that continues to grow and change the way people interact with one another. Social networking services enable users to interact with people more rapidly and on a larger scale. Instagram is a photo and video-sharing service where people can engage with followers by posting to a personal account, liking and commenting on posts, temporarily adding a 24-hour Instagram story, and direct messaging. Instagram is a great way to share ideas, points of view, and experiences while staying connected with others they don’t necessarily see everyday.

I created my Instagram account in high school and have been a daily user for the past four years. With a private account, I have the ability to approve or deny follow requests. No one can see my personal account without my permission. However, a public account is accessible to everyone and its posts can be shared by anyone else on Instagram. Celebrities, corporations, and news outlets usually have public accounts in order to influence users on a larger scale. Instagram stories commonly consist of birthday wishes, travel updates and sceneries, daily experiences, and shared posts from public accounts. Being a diverse app, people have the ability to seek out and follow accounts that interest them. Similarly, one can avoid content they may not want to see by ignoring undesirable accounts.

On May 15, a near-total abortion ban legislation in Alabama was passed. This resulted in a pro-abortion social media frenzy that hijacked my Instagram story feed. People were quick to use their accounts as a political platform to share their opinions regarding the new law. Many of these users had never vocalized their political views on Instagram before, especially on a controversial topic such as abortion. The most common message being shared was that “men shouldn’t be making laws about women’s bodies.” Similar posts implied the same message with headshots of the 25 Senators who voted against an exception for cases of rape or incest. With an emphasis on misogyny, the female state representative, Terri Collins, who sponsored the bill, and female Governor, Kay Ivey, who signed the bill into law, were conveniently overlooked. This is an example of the many messages that spread misinformation and opinions not based on facts. The number of posts disputing aspects of the new law that were blatantly false were overwhelming. I decided to use my account to repost the same pro-abortion photos and arguments, but added my own captions to present a pro-life perspective on the matter.

My attempt to rectify the misleading and erroneous messages the mainstream media were proclaiming was met with an immense amount of backlash from my Instagram followers. Friends and acquaintances whom I haven’t seen or spoken to in years from my elementary school and high school were directly messaging me about my pro-life stance. Although digital activism is important, debates via social media are limited when conveying tone and often resulted in caustic conversations. Each debate evolved into binary political positions that had no resolution. Some conversations ended by wishing harm upon me, other conversations were abruptly ended. The purpose of keeping my account private was to restrict those whom I don’t know personally from viewing my account information. After a week of correcting pro-life misconceptions on my Instagram story, I noticed a five per cent decline in my follower count most of whom were people I considered to be friends, including some I would consider close.

It is necessary that both sides of the abortion debate understand each other’s argument. With mainstream media silencing pro-lifers, it is crucial to promote a fact-based approach to this issue. A student named Owen from a Catholic high school in Orillia was ridiculed for his promotion of pro-life values on his Instagram account. An upset pro-abortion student confronted him through direct messaging to express her objections. She justified her stance with false assumptions regarding the new laws such as “rapists will be getting less of a sentence than the woman who receives the abortion or the doctor who performs it.” Being the strictest abortion bill in the United States, the majority of posts addressed the Alabama bill. However, after a simple Google search of the official legislature, I read Section 5 of the bill which states, “No woman upon whom an abortion is performed or attempted to be performed shall be criminally or civilly liable.” She then proceeded to screenshot their private conversation and post it on her Finsta account (a second “fake Instagram” account some create to post unfiltered life experiences for a smaller and more private audience). With the school’s student council elections approaching, she intended to expose Owen as someone with “dated opinions” that do not “represent everyone,” and advised her followers not to vote for him in the upcoming election. A similar situation happened to another male student from a Catholic high school in Mississauga. Both of these cases resulted in the loss of multiple social media followers and support for their student council campaigns. As long as mainstream media continue to silence and condescend to pro-life viewpoints, others will do the same without having to be objective.

Public figures addressed their concerns about the Alabama and several other states’ bills by suggested illogical solutions such as “regulating men’s vasectomies” instead of restricting abortions. Being completely detached from science and human biology, the pro-abortion movement is (sometimes) able to acknowledge that the unborn are living human beings with heartbeats, yet are willing to kill them anyway. To assume that removing a man’s appendage is equivalent to ending the heartbeat of another autonomous human being is ludicrous. Posting pro-abortion messages without understanding fundamental human anatomy and embryology only serves to influence followers with misleading information.

According to Statista, a consumer data company, Instagram has over one billion monthly users worldwide. Young adults use it not only to connect with friends, but to also keep updated on their favourite brands and celebrities. Celebrities invite publicity by posting frequently and allowing their followers to view their daily experiences. Instagram introduced its 24-hour story feature in 2016. Since then it has grown from 100 million to 500 million daily users. It is important to remember that once something is posted to the internet, there is no guarantee that it will be undetectable even after being deleted. With this in mind, people must consider how their content can influence those viewing their account.

Ariana Grande, with 156 million followers, and Selena Gomez, with 151 million followers, rank number two and three for the most followed Instagram accounts in 2019. Serving as role models to millions of people worldwide, both Ariana and Selena voiced their opposition to the new pro-life laws. Not only did they participate in the pro-abortion echo chamber, Gomez also provided a link and requested her followers to donate to Planned Parenthood, an organization notoriously known for carrying out the largest number of abortions annually.

Instagram provides a highly visible platform for its users, especially celebrities. Its ability to influence the masses should not be taken lightly or used for propaganda. Likewise, users should be skeptical when using social media as news sources. During a political outcry, it is necessary to use credible sources to make an informed decision about the matter. Rather than being submissive to the mainstream media in fear of negative backlash, pro-lifers must continue to use their social media platforms to challenge societal norms and engage in digital activism.

 Shania Nigli is a summer intern atThe Interim and Campaign Life Coalition.