Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, social media has been flooded by posts from people offering to take people "camping" — coded language for assisting people seeking abortions out of state.
But some activists and experts warn that offering to house strangers isn't as helpful as connecting them 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 everybody what the code is," said Kari Nixon, an assistant professor of English at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, who studies medical humanities.
“There seems to be this sense of not taking this truly seriously enough, because again, if you’ve thought about it for one second, why would you tell anybody the secret method you’re trying to use to help someone?” Nixon said. “It bespeaks to me a part of the population that, however well-intentioned, has never actually had to fight for their lives.”
Some activists said that when people offer to help without having proper training or resources, they are overlooking the support networks that already exist.
“Is this just being performative?" asked Kiki, a creator known as blackpnwlady. "Is this all for show and you have no intention to help?”
“Which is also bad," added Kiki, who asked to use only her first name out of concern for her privacy after her criticism of the trend drew backlash. "Because people are going to be scared and desperate, and if they reach out to you and you ignore them because this is all for show, you now have somebody who is scared, desperate and might not know where to turn because you don’t want to actually help them.”
How the trend went viral
TikTok users first began using coded language to refer to abortions in May, when Politico published a leaked draft opinion of the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Twenty-one states had either pre-existing or pending state-level abortion bans poised to go into effect after the Supreme Court's decision. Thirteen states have so-called trigger laws — pre-existing or pending laws banning the procedure after the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Friday's news had people online scrambling to do anything they could to help, a reflex that has become commonplace among very "online" people, particularly after major news events.
“Camping is legal in Florida,” one TikToker user said in a video posted after the decision. “If you need a place to recover or support while camping, I’m here to help.”
Others in states where bans on abortion are already in effect offered their help doing things like sending negative pregnancy tests and transporting people out of state.
“If you live in Texas and need a ride to go ‘camping’ — I got this truck I paid too much for, and I think you’d look great in the passenger seat,” another TikTok user said in a video.
In Canada, some TikTok users offered to open their homes for people seeking abortion care. One, who said she was four hours from the Montana border, said she could feed and give hugs to anyone who needed to "learn to knit." Another user offered to take people “wine tasting."
Many on TikTok also have used the song "Paris" by the Chainsmokers to show solidarity with people in states where abortion is banned or inaccessible. In the videos, TikTok users lip-sync the lyric "If we go down, then we go down together."
Why such responses can be problematic
Using metaphors and joining in on a trend diminish the vulnerability of someone seeking abortion care, Nixon said.
It isn't safe to tell strangers about an abortion without knowing their real intentions, she said, which is why volunteers are so thoroughly vetted.
"I think it really is word of mouth," Nixon said. "At the very least, we're diffusing our energies when we're putting anything out on Facebook or Twitter as a meme and expecting that it's actually going to be a means through which a desperate woman can find a solution."
If you truly want to help, that means that you are willing to accept that your job might not be glamorous.
-Kiki, a creator known as blackpnwlady
Kiki has spoken out against the trend in multiple TikTok videos and in a viral Twitter thread.
In her first video, she noted that established abortion funds are already organizing transportation, housing and support for people traveling for abortions. The people working with those organizations, she said, have been trained and properly vetted to work with abortion patients.
Kiki also pointed out that by offering to open their homes to complete strangers, the creators participating in the trend risked legal consequences for helping people access abortions illegally. If they worked through established organizations, she said, they would have a network of legal aid and resources backing them.
"This is a time for you to stop trying to be Katniss Everdeen, step back and realize that in the grand scheme of the rebellion, you might be the person whose job it is to make copies," Kiki said, referring to the main character of "The Hunger Games."
"If you truly want to help, that means that you are willing to accept that your job might not be glamorous."
Kiki shared a screenshot of a creator who said they would open their home, only to walk back the offer.
"It's the point that people know they are not alone," the creator in the screenshot said. "I don't actually expect someone to come to my house."
Nixon pointed out the "decided white savior complex" that many of the videos appear to embody.
Marginalized communities, particularly Black and Indigenous communities, have established actual whisper networks for protesting and organizing mutual aid. Posting about offering to help — with none of the resources, training or protocol that community organizations have — would undermine those whisper networks.
Kiki, who is Black, said the backlash she got for criticizing the camping trend came from white women who had a "problem" with her "tone." Several white Twitter users "did the ally work" and defended her, said Kiki, who said the tone-policing isn't productive in activism.
Most people learn an "extremely watered-down version" of the civil rights movement, which is why so many misguided creators participating in Roe v. Wade protest trends "have not been taught properly how to do activism," Kiki said.
Many white women participating in the trends, Kiki said, "never bothered to understand how to fight for your rights." It takes more than "showing up and asking politely."
What some activists suggest people do instead
Organizations like Planned Parenthood Toronto asked well-meaning supporters to stop inviting strangers to their homes.
In an online guide for people living in Canada, Planned Parenthood Toronto urged advocates to support existing networks instead of creating new ones, warning that abortion care networks are susceptible to surveillance and infiltration.
Mountain Access Brigade, an abortion fund serving Appalachia and the Southeast, posted that the organization has been inundated with volunteer offers.
In an Instagram post, Mountain Access Brigade instead asked for help fundraising and for eager supporters to "be an abortion resource to the people they already know."
The organization expressed disappointment that people were only recently spurred into action, "at the most stressful time for organizations like ours."
Some online are already listening to activists’ feedback after having participated in the trend.
Jess Mitter, whose tweet about housing visitors seeking abortions went viral after the Supreme Court decision, apologized for the “misstep” Monday.
Mitter didn’t immediately respond to an interview request.
In a Twitter thread Monday, she said that she was “overwhelmed with emotion” and that she tweeted the invitation for visitors “to show support for my friends in different states as we suffer from a wave of abortion bans taking over the nation.”
She said her tweet “unexpectedly became part of viral trend,” and she asked followers to spread information about resources like mail-order abortion pills, instead.
Kiki said those who participated in the trend shouldn't be discouraged from continuing to protest. But she urged them to reflect on their actions.
"It doesn't matter if you're a good person and you're trying to do something good. If this impact of what you're doing is going to cause harm and put people in danger and your first response to that is 'but I had good intentions,' then this has always been about you," Kiki said. "If your first defense is 'I didn't realize this could hurt other people,' then you're doing this with good intentions and you're doing the right thing by listening."