The hashtag #ihadanabortion is both a popular and controversial Twitter topic. But some critics have suggested tweeting about abortion is trivialising to the experience.
On CNN, Carol Costello asked “how can you have a conversation about something so important via tweet?” And on PBS, Karen Czarnecki suggested women should use “a more appropriate place to discuss this.”
The subtext of comments like these, of course, is substantial. Not only do their statements imply that abortion is something to be ashamed of, but they also repeat one of Twitter’s most common criticisms: that any topic discussed on the social networking site is immediately trivialised by the medium.
The reproductive rights advocate who started the hashtag on Twitter, however, did so to resist notions that abortion is shameful or that Twitter isn’t a legitimate way to communicate. In a Feminists for Choice interview, Steph Herold explained why she chose Twitter as the vehicle for her particular message:
“Since I have a decent sized following on Twitter (around 3,000 followers), I thought that venue would be the best way to reach as many people as possible instead of say, emailing all my contacts with this idea. There are many, many websites that allow women to tell their stories in longer form (such as ImNotSorry.net, 45 million voices, Women on Web, to name a few), but I’ve never seen this kind of campaign on Twitter. It’s easier to write a sentence or two about your abortion than it is to write a blog post. Twitter opens up this conversation to a broader audience – it’s not just for the pro-choice community like many abortion story websites. By using Twitter, this hashtag has the potential to reach a new audience, to reach women who haven’t been given a venue to share their stories.”
All the worrying and hand-wringing from traditional media types, then, seems to be missing the point. As new as it may be, Twitter is still a medium like any other, and its importance and influence as a tool for social change has been proven in its roles in the Iranian election protests last year and the recent UK tuition fee riots.
There will always be a degree of discomfort and scepticism expressed by old-media devotees when new technology introduces new ways to communicate. And who can blame them, when the hottest trending topics on Twitter are about Justin Bieber and soap opera plots.
But the truth is that Twitter offers a straightforward way to have broad conversations with a widespread audience. Some of those conversations can certainly be regarded as “silly,” but just because a woman reveals her abortion experience in 140 characters or less doesn’t make it so.
Discussions about abortion shouldn’t be relegated to the obscure corners of the internet realm, relayed only in hushed tones. As RH Reality Check’s Amie Newman writes, “If women who have abortions are tweeting about those abortions— and others who support keeping abortion safe and legal in this country are tweeting support— then, yes, abortion is something to tweet about.”
Tweets are short communiqués telling anyone who is listening what is on your mind. Like any other debate in any other medium, the participants hold the power to elevate or diminish it. Twitter is only as trivial or serious as the people who use it, and as we’ve seen time and time again, people have a seemingly limitless capacity to be both.
You can follow Abortion Rights on Twitter at @AbortionˍRights