Last month, the anti-abortion advocacy group Texas Right to Life launched a website for Texans to anonymously snitch on people who may have helped someone get an abortion.
The creation of the anti-abortion tip line, which is hosted on GoDaddy servers in Arizona, follows the passing of a Texas law that will ban abortions after six weeks, a time when some women don’t yet know they’re pregnant. The draconian legislation, set to be enacted September 1st, makes no exceptions for rape or incest and also puts enforcement of the law into the hands of private citizens. Under the new law, in fact, any Texan can sue another person in the state for helping someone to get an abortion after six weeks. “If these individuals are proved to be violating the law,” the website reads, “they have to pay a fine of at least $10,000.” (More than 20 abortion providers in the state have filed a lawsuit in an attempt to prevent the law from going into effect, arguing that it “will create absolute chaos in Texas and irreparably harm Texans in need of abortion services.”)
Not long after the tip line’s launch, a redditor on the female-centric subreddit r/TwoXChromosomes took to the 13-million-subscriber community to write: “Texas now has an anonymous tip line for reporting abortions. It would be a shame if we all made bogus tips, making the whole system useless.”
The post received nearly 70K upvotes and made its way to the “front page” of Reddit, one of the highest-trafficked landing pages on the planet. But it soon became clear that just flooding the Texas Right to Life’s dataset with thousands of fake reports could allow the group to filter out common names, IP addresses outside of Texas and other signs of made-up accounts. As such, Twitter user Claire Ryan, who describes herself as a “senior web dev who specializes in data processing and analysis,” created a tweet thread to outline specific ways to “poison” any data collected by Texas Right to Life.
She explains that the best way for them to combat any of the “real” data collected by the website is to “make the junk look exactly like the real data, as far as is possible.” In turn, Reddit users took that advice, and offered some of their own. “Don’t say things like ‘senator’ and ‘governor’ and avoid big names in politics. It’s likely been used several times, and they’re going to throw it out,” advises one user. “Make it realistic: (This name) announced they were pregnant, then went on a trip out of state and came back saying they had miscarried.”
The flood of reports coming from Twitter and Reddit appeared to have briefly crashed the site this morning (as of publishing time, though, the site was back and running.). “I tried to leave a fake tip but it keeps going to an error page,” the top comment in the r/TwoXChromosomes post reads. “Im [sic] guessing it’s because Reddit overtook it. I love Reddit!”