The anti-choice right is trying to enlist the internet to help enforce Senate Bill 8, the latest GOP assault on reproductive rights. However, they’re learning the hard way that the internet has a habit of not doing what you want it to do.
SB 8, which goes into effect on September 1, is one of the most extreme anti-abortion laws in the country. It essentially bans abortion at six weeks, before many women even know they’re pregnant. Furthermore, the law allows pretty much anyone to sue not just abortion providers but anyone who facilitated an abortion, with a $10,000 bounty for those whose lawsuits are successful.
As part of the effort to enforce the new ban via vigilantism, the anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life has created a website where people can submit anonymous tips. All one has to do is submit a form detailing the supposed violation and Texas Right to Life will “do the rest.”
After all, who better to ask for help than the internet? Ubiquitous information has been combined with large groups of people with too much time on their hands to create investigative capabilities that were previously only available to governments. In one infamous case, 4Chan users managed to find a flag in just 38 hours using little more than planes and stars that were visible on the livestream. Experts call this phenomenon “crowdsourced intelligence” or “CROSINT,” but the Internet calls it “weaponized autism.” Texas Right to Life was hoping to harness this force to create a crowdsourced anti-choice Big Brother. What could go wrong?
The problem with asking for help from the internet is that it has a mind of its own and it often embodies the chaotic neutral alignment. There are plenty of examples of organizations seeking to crowdsource solutions online, only for it to blow up in their face. In one incident, a promotional campaign called “Dub the Dew” allowed users to submit and vote on names for a new flavor of Mountain Dew. The Internet’s legions made it backfire spectacularly by bombarding the site with offensive and ridiculous names.
Texas Right to Life clearly did not learn from “Dub the Dew” and other crowdsourcing fiascoes when they allowed random people on the internet to submit tips about SB 8 violations. Predictably, the anonymous form became a magnet for trolls, with online activists flooding the website with fake reports and encouraging others to do the same. “Gosh, I wonder if they factored in people abusing the integrity of this system,” wrote one Twitter user. “Hmmm I hope ppl don’t abuse this!” Trolls posted song lyrics, copypastas, and the Bee Movie script.
Perhaps the biggest mistake was putting the option to attach files, including gifs, to the form. One troll took this opportunity to upload pornographic material of the animated character Shrek, documenting his activism in a TikTok that has since gone viral. As of this writing, the section to upload files has been removed from the form, likely due to the reckoning (one could say the Shrekoning) that was wrought by trolls.
Texas Right to Life has claimed that they anticipated trolling and have had no problems, although last weekend the website crashed. They also claimed that they have blocked IP addresses from outside of Texas as well as VPNs that mask someone’s location. However, at the time of this writing users are still able to submit forms using a VPN, indeed the author used a VPN to submit a report about a character from the Netflix series Bojack Horseman.
If you would like to partake in the trolling of the anti-choice right, you can do so here. While they hoped to enlist online help in enforcing the draconian abortion law, Texas Right to Life instead proved that the internet always wins.
William serves as the Washington Correspondent for the Texas Signal, where he primarily writes about Congress and other federal issues that affect Texas. A graduate of Colorado College, William has worked on Democratic campaigns in Texas, Colorado, and North Carolina. He is an internet meme expert.