'Camping': Codewords on TikTok offer help to US citizens seeking abortions

·3-min read

TikTok users have been widely sharing codewords to offer help to US citizens who are seeking an abortion.

Ever since Roe vs. Wade was overturned in June, the social media platform has been flooded with supportive posts.

Users have offered to host or take people "camping" or "kayaking" in another state where abortion is legal, instead of using specific phrases.

The TikTok videos have also inspired a surge in support in European countries, including Italy and the United Kingdom.

But abortion rights organisations have expressed concerns about the online movement and are urging users to promote official support networks.

Activists are concerned that TikTok users do not have the training or resources to effectively help and are drawing attention away from established support networks, such as abortionfinder.org.

"I think it is very well-meaning that people want to open up their homes, but it is better to go through these established organisations," said Rachel Fey, Vice-President of policy and strategic partnerships at the Power to Decide.

"If I were counselling one of my friends who was seeking abortion care, I would not tell them to stay with someone they met on TikTok, as much as that may be well-meaning."

Euronews via TikTok
TikTok videos referring to "camping" or "kayaking" began to appear even before Roe vs. Wade was overturned. - Euronews via TikTok

By avoiding the term "abortion," TikTok users are hoping to prevent their videos from being detected or censored by TikTok's algorithm and potentially reported.

A number of TikTok videos are accompanied by The Chainsmokers' song "Paris" and the lyrics "If we go down, we go down together," which has become an anthem of solidarity among abortion rights advocates online.

But some campaigners have even questioned whether some people are simply using the codewords as a "performative" gesture and do not intend to help. Others have voiced fears that the trend could be exploited by anti-abortion campaigners to discourage people who are seeking the procedure.

"Abortion funds or abortion networks ... have years of experience and have prepared for this exact moment," said one TikTok creator. "These individuals on TikTok and Twitter have not."

On top of concerns about TikTok's users' experience and training, others have warned about the potential legal ramifications of the online movement.

Thirteen so-called "trigger" states in the US have pre-existing laws banning abortions after Roe vs. Wade was overturned and in Texas and Oklahoma, people can be reported for aiding and abetting abortion seekers.

"These laws represent real threats to abortion seekers, abortion providers and anyone who helps them," Fey told Euronews.

"This is a time of a lot of political and legal chaos, and I encourage anyone who wants to help to stick to channels that are already available."

"These channels have been vetted and are doing this in as safe a way as possible, both for the people seeking the care and those offering it."

The Power to Decide points to a number of abortion funds and practical support groups that are already set up to help people travel and understand the logistics of seeking an abortion in another state.

"There are a lot of things that will help a whole lot more, such as volunteering or donating to these practical support organisations or getting involved in local community politics," Fey said.

"For the TikTok generation, activism is as natural as breathing and I would encourage them to channel this activism in the most productive way."

"Raising your voice on TikTok is important and helpful, we want to make sure everyone is safe".