Conspiracy theorists latched on to the debate over US abortion rights on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok, leading to a spike in misinformation around what is already one of the most politically-charged topics online.

For years, social networks have been criticized for hosting user posts and advertisements that try to confuse people about their right to access abortion or about the safety of the procedure. Researchers have seen a surge in posts connecting the leak itself to already-problematic conspiratorial storylines since May 2, when the draft Supreme Court decision was published.

There are nearly 200 far right Facebook groups with names like Nashville Tea Party and Southern Conservatives United. The draft ruling's leak distracted from news favorable to Donald Trump, according to hundreds of tweets. Dozens of chats on Telegram were dedicated to the false idea that a group of global liberal elites run a child sex ring that Trump would stop.

In the last week, false stories surged to tens of thousands of mentions on social media and in the news. Content from less reliable sources has more than doubled since the publication of the leaked draft, compared to the amount of conversation on abortion the month before the leak occurred, which was already heightened due to changing laws in some states.

The abortion topic is not new to certain communities, such as motherhood groups, conservative religious groups and anti-science communities.

In right-wing communities, misinformation about abortion has been circulating. Media Matters for America found that of the top-engaged U.S. abortion-related stories on Facebook, the majority of links came from right-leaning websites that pushed anti-abortion falsehoods. In February, Representative Jerrold Nadler, the Judiciary Committee chairman, sent a letter to Facebook asking them to explain why they promoted ads about abortion reversal despite the known dangers of the procedure. Meta Platforms Inc., the owner of Facebook, responded to the letter stating that ads that discuss abortion services are permitted under its policies with a required disclaimer.

The new spike in abortion misinformation is a battle that anti-choicers have been fighting for a long time, according to the chief executive of Card Strategies. Like Covid and climate change, reproductive health shouldn't be political.

Social media companies have labeled posts redirecting users to information from authorities when it comes to issues like the swine flu and the 2020 election results which led to false theories that it was stolen from Trump.

There are so many false statements about abortion that they are easy to overlook. According to the author of The Lie That Binds, the medical procedure can be invisible in a lot of ways. She pointed out that abortion clinic bombings since the 70s, as well as the harassment of providers and patients who have publicly said they had undergone the procedure, are threats to health and safety.

Historically, companies have adjusted their policies to fit specific legal requirements. If the abortion law is changed, it will become illegal in thirteen states. For fear of running afoul of the law, companies may hesitate to direct users to accurate information that may support an abortion decision.

Kevin McAlister said that several of the pages shared by Bloomberg had shared content that had been fact-checked, and that they had been ranked lower in Facebook's news feed. Facebook's community standards would apply to posts about abortion, such as policies against harassment, violent and graphic content, and privacy violations.

For abortion or other charged topics, it tries to counter misleading claims by elevating credible information through its social media channels. The community guidelines are enforced regardless of the topic. TikTok says it labels videos to inform viewers when the content is not legit. Telegram didn't reply to the request for comment.

On May 3, one day after the Supreme Court's draft ruling was published, Josh Barnett, a Republican candidate for Congress in Arizona, said they leaked the 2000 Mules info. A post by Barnett collected 27,100 likes and shares. It was one of nearly 600 posts in the past week questioning the timing of the leak as it related to the release of the film, peaking at 15 tweets an hour on the evening of May 3.

According to data from CrowdTangle, posts connecting the leak of the draft ruling to the anti-fascist movement collected 12,600 likes and shares on Facebook. Meta said that the number is small compared to the content shared on its apps and that it was not likely every person in the groups engaged with the posts given their metrics. As many as 12 million people may have seen the posts, even if they did not like or share them, according to the CrowdTangle data.

The baseless idea was amplified on YouTube, where the right-wing influencer Tim Pool posted a video on May 4 proclaiming that liberals call for violence and revolution over abortion.

Several accounts on TikTok posted videos without evidence that a Supreme Court clerk leaked a draft ruling, collecting over 41,000 views on the platform. The company made those videos ineligible for recommendation into For You feeds and put a label on them to warn users that their contents were not proven.