Since the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade, social media has been inundated with posts from people offering to take people “camping” – coded language to help people seeking out-of-state abortions.
But some activists and experts warn that offering strangers housing isn’t as helpful as putting them in touch with local abortion rights organizations.
The posts Follow similar coded language trends used by people trying to avoid algorithmic censorship on social media or potential detection by law enforcement.
A code isn’t a code “if you tell everyone what the code is,” said Kari Nixon, an assistant professor of English at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, who majors in a medical liberal arts major.
“There seems to be this feeling of not really taking this seriously enough, because again, if you’ve thought about it for a second, why would you tell anyone the secret method you’re using to try and help someone?” Nixon said. “For me, it testifies to a part of the population that, despite all the good intentions, never really had to fight for their lives.”
Some activists said when people offer help without proper training or resources, they overlook the support networks that already exist.
“Is this just performative?” asked Kiki, a creator named blackpnwlady. “Is this all just for show and you have no intention of helping?”
“Which is also bad,” added Kiki, who asked to only use her first name out of concerns for her privacy after her criticism of the trend sparked backlash. “Because people are going to be scared and desperate and when they come forward and you ignore them because it’s all for show, you now have someone who is scared, desperate and maybe doesn’t know who to turn to because you don’t really want to help him.
How the trend went viral
TikTok users first began using scrambled language to refer to abortion in May, when Politico published a leaked draft advisory opinion of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade published.
Twenty-one states had either pre-existing or pending state-level abortion bans that were about to go into effect following the Supreme Court decision. Thirteen states have so-called trigger statutes – existing or pending statutes that would regulate the process following the overthrow of Roe v. Ban Wade.
Friday’s news made people do whatever they could to help, a reflex that has become commonplace among very “online” people, especially after major news events.
“Camping is legal in Florida,” said a TikToker user in a video released after the decision. “If you need somewhere to rest or support while camping, I’m here to help.”
Others in states where abortion bans are already in place have offered to help, such as sending negative pregnancy tests and transporting people out of the state.
“If you live in Texas and need a ride to go ‘camping’ — I have this truck that I overpaid for and I think you’d look great in the passenger seat,” said another TikTok user in a Video.
There was also a surge in support from people in Canada, Austria, Italy and the UK.
In Canada, some TikTok users offered to open their homes to people who want abortion treatment. One, who said she was four hours from the Montana border, said she could feed and hug anyone who needed to “learn to knit.” Another user offered people “wine samples” to take away.
Many on TikTok have also used the Chainsmokers’ song “Paris” to show solidarity with people in states where abortion is banned or inaccessible. In the videos, TikTok users sync the text “If we go down, we go down together”.
Why such answers can be problematic
Using metaphors and participating in a trend reduces the vulnerability of someone seeking abortion treatment, Nixon said.
It’s not safe to tell strangers about an abortion without knowing your true intentions, she said, which is why volunteers are screened so thoroughly.
“I think it’s really word of mouth,” Nixon said. “At the very least, when we post something as a meme on Facebook or Twitter, we are dissipating our energies and expecting that it will actually be a means by which a desperate woman can find a solution.”
If you really want to help, that means you’re willing to accept that your job might not be glamorous.
-Kiki, a creator known as Blackpnwlady
Kiki has spoken out against the trend in several TikTok videos and one viral twitter thread.
In her first video, she noted that established abortion funds are already arranging transportation, housing and support for people traveling for abortions. The people who work with these organizations have been trained and properly screened to work with abortion patients.
Kiki also pointed out that the creators who participated in the trend risked legal action by offering to open their homes to complete strangers for helping people access abortions illegally. If they worked through established organizations, she said, they would have a network of legal counsel and resources to support them.
“This is a time for you to stop being Katniss Everdeen, to step back and realize that in the grand scheme of the Rebellion, you may be the person whose job it is to make copies,” Kiki said, referring to the main character of “The Hunger Games”.
“If you really want to help, that means you’re willing to accept that your job might not be glamorous.”
Kiki shared screenshot of a creator who said he would open his house only to take back the offer.
“It’s that point where people know they’re not alone,” the screenshot creator said. “I don’t really expect anyone to come to my house.”
Nixon pointed out the “determined white savior complex” that many of the videos seem to embody.
Marginalized communities, especially Black and Indigenous communities, have set up virtual whisper networks to protest and organize mutual aid. Posting offers of help—without the resources, training, or protocols that community organizations have—would undermine these whisper networks.
Kiki, who is black, said the backlash she got for criticism of the camping trend came from white women who had a “problem” with their “tone.” Several white Twitter users “have done the ally work” and defended it, said Kiki, who said tone control is not productive in activism.
Most people learn an “extremely watered down version” of the civil rights movement, which is why so many misguided creators who subscribe to Roe v. Wade, “wasn’t taught properly how to do activism,” Kiki said.
Many white women who participated in the trends, Kiki said, “never bothered to understand how to fight for your rights.” It takes more than “show up and ask politely.”
What some activists are proposing instead
Organizations like Planned Parenthood Toronto have urged well-meaning supporters to stop inviting strangers into their homes.
In an online guide for people living in Canada, Planned Parenthood Toronto urged advocates to support existing networks rather than create new ones and warned that abortion care networks are vulnerable to surveillance and infiltration.
Mountain Access Brigade, an abortion fund for Appalachia and the Southeast, said the organization has been inundated with volunteer offers.
In an Instagram post, the Mountain Access Brigade instead asked for help raising funds and eager supporters to “be an abortion resource for the people they already know.”
The organization expressed disappointment that people have only recently been spurred into action “at the most stressful time for organizations like ours”.
Some online users are already listening to activist feedback after participating in the trend.
Jess Mitter, whose tweet about apartment visitors seeking abortions went viral after the Supreme Court decision, apologized for the “misstep” on Monday.
Mitter did not immediately respond to an interview request.
in one Twitter thread On Monday, she said she was “overwhelmed with emotion” and tweeted the invitation for visitors “to support my friends in different states as we suffer a wave of abortion bans sweeping the nation.”
She said her tweet “unexpectedly became part of a viral trend,” and she asked her followers to share information about resources like mail order abortion pills instead.
Kiki said those who participated in the trend should not be discouraged from continuing to protest. But she urged them to think about their actions.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a good person and trying to do something good. If that impact of what you’re doing is causing harm and putting people at risk, and your first reaction to that is, ‘but I had good intentions, it was always about you,'” Kiki said. “If your first defense is ‘I didn’t realize this could hurt other people,’ then you’re doing it with good intentions and you’re doing the right thing by listening.”