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Facebook gave teen’s private messages about alleged abortion to Nebraska police


Meta gave police access to private Facebook messages that allegedly detailed a Nebraska teen’s plans to get an illegal abortion, bolstering local authorities’ cases against the girl and her mother. 

Mark Zuckerberg’s social-networking giant — which has promised to cover travel costs for its own employees looking to access abortions following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade — complied with a search warrant from Norfolk, Nebraska police in early June, according to court records obtained by The Post. 

The parent of Facebook and Instagram handed over the records just weeks before the high court’s ruling — and weeks before Zuckerberg reportedly told a company all-hands meeting that “protecting people’s privacy” was “extra salient” in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.

Meta — which has has also reportedly told its employees not to discuss abortion at work — gave police access to two accounts belonging to a 17-year-old named Celeste Burgess and her mother, 41-year-old Jessica Burgess, according to court documents. 

A police detective then found messages between the Burgesses allegedly confirming plans for Celeste to take pills to induce an abortion in April — around 23 weeks into her pregnancy. Nebraska’s legal cutoff for abortion is 20 weeks. 

Jessica Burgess and her daughter were charged with felonies after Meta handed over private messages.
Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg said in June that “protecting people’s privacy” was “extra salient” after Roe v. Wade was overturned.
Getty Images for SXSW

“Are we starting it today,” Celeste asked in one of the messages, which were included in court filings. 

“We can if u want the one will stop the hormones,” Jessica responded. 

Later on, Celeste allegedly wrote, “Remember we burn the evidence.” 

“Yep,” Jessica responded. 

Celeste Burgess, who is now 18, has been charged with removing/concealing/abandoning a dead human body, concealing the death of another person and false reporting.

Her mother has been charged with performing or attempting an abortion greater than 20 weeks, performing an abortion when not a licensed doctor, removing/concealing/abandoning a dead human body, concealing the death of another person and false reporting. 

Meta
Meta turned over private Facebook messages about the alleged abortion that were then cited in court documents.

Police documents show Meta turned over the Burgesses’ messages on June 9 — about two weeks before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24. 

A Meta spokesperson defended the decision to hand over the private conversations.

“Nothing in the valid warrants we received from local law enforcement in early June, prior to the Supreme Court decision, mentioned abortion,” said Meta spokesperson Andy Stone.

“The warrants concerned charges related to a criminal investigation and court documents indicate that police at the time were investigating the case of a stillborn baby who was burned and buried, not a decision to have an abortion,” he added in a series of Twitter posts.

At a Meta all-hands meeting on June 30, Zuckerberg addressed an employee question about steps the company is taking to protect users who are seeking abortions, CyberScoop reported

“Protecting people’s privacy is always important, I get that this is extra salient right now [with] the Supreme Court decision and that specifically bearing on privacy,” Zuckerberg reportedly said. “But it just has always been a thing that we care about.”

Zuckerberg added that encrypting users’ messages “is actually one of the ways that you keep people safe from bad behavior or, or over-broad requests for information or things like that.”

Norfolk, Nebraska police
Norfolk, Nebraska police delivered a search warrant for the mother and daughters’ Facebook messages.

Yet antitrust watchdogs say Meta handing over the Burgesses’ messages shows the company doesn’t care about protecting abortion rights. 

“These tech giants have accumulated an unfathomable amount of sensitive data on each and every one of us,” Jesse Lehrich, co-founder of Accountable Tech, told The Post. “They are going to dutifully comply with subpoena requests like this in a post-Roe world.”

“It turns their ubiquitous products into weapons that will be wielded against their own users,” Lehrich added.

Meta has also caught flak from abortion advocates for removing posts about abortion pills from Facebook and Instagram directed toward women who may not be able to access them following the Supreme Court’s decision, Vice reported in June.

Both advertisers and regular users offering to mail pills to users in states where abortion is illegal have had their posts removed for violating the sites’ community standards, according to the outlet. 

Stone said in response to the Vice story that the company will not allow individuals to gift or sell pharmaceuticals on its platform, but will allow content that shares information on how to access pills.

The Nebraska abortion case was first reported by the Lincoln Journal Star.

Additional reporting by Snejana Farberov



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