Anti-abortion website shut down after flood of trolling

by | Sep 8, 2021 | News, Reproductive Health

The idea was simple enough: set up a website where people can report on their fellow Texans for violating the state’s extreme new abortion restrictions. However, as the anti-choice group Texas Right to Life found out the hard way, things are rarely simple when it comes to the internet. In the weeks since their abortion snitching website ProLifeWhistleblower.com went online, it’s been plagued by trolling and has been shut down multiple times. 

At the heart of ProLifeWhistleblower.com was a form where anyone can report a violation of SB 8 (AKA the Texas Heartbeat Act), which not only bans abortions after six weeks but also penalizes anyone who facilitates a violation, such as driving someone to an abortion clinic or providing money that’s used for an abortion. Crowdsourcing the assault on reproductive rights may have seemed like a good idea to Texas Right to Life, but anyone who’s familiar with the internet knows that creating an online form that’s both anonymous and open to everyone is just asking for trouble.

Predictably, the “whistleblower” site attracted a flood of false information from trolls. Users uploaded everything from reports of Greg Abbott to the Bee Movie script. One of the more popular trolling methods was uploading Shrek porn, as the form initially allowed people to attach files, including images and gifs (not a good idea). 

While Reddit and Twitter joined in on the fun, perhaps the most effective army of trolls came from TikTok. The popular app has a history of online activism/trolling, with K-Pop fans on TikTok sabotaging Trump’s Tulsa rally in 2020. Developer Sean Black, who goes by @black_madness21 on TikTok, created a bot that automatically filed false tips. When his IP address was blocked after submitting nearly 300 reports, Black created an iOS shortcut that picks a random location in Texas to avoid the IP bans.

Texas Right to Life has been granted a reprieve from the internet’s Shrekoning, but probably not the kind that they wanted. Hosting provider GoDaddy booted ProLifeWhistleblower.com on Friday, giving them 24 hours to find a new home. GoDaddy cited multiple violations of terms of service, including the anonymous tip form clearly going against a rule prohibiting the collection of “non-public or personally identifiable information” without consent. 

ProLifeWhistleblower.com initially found a new provider in Digital Ocean but got booted from there as well. On Saturday, it appeared that the site was using Epik, which has rescued numerous other controversial websites like Parler and 8chan. However, ProLifeWhistleblower.com went too far even for Epik, who also cited the anonymous tip form as a violation of the terms of service and quickly shut it down. As of Wednesday, ProLifeWhistleblower.com is still dark. 

It appears that the right’s attempt to enlist online vigilantism in their quest to eliminate reproductive rights has come to an end. Let this be another lesson in why asking for help from random people on the internet is a bad idea. 

Washington Correspondent | + posts

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.

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