How activists on TikTok shut down Texas’s abortion whistleblower tip website

·5-min read
TikTokers take action against Texas's anti-abortion law. (Photo: TikTok)
TikTokers take action against Texas's anti-abortion law. (Photo: TikTok)

Young activists on TikTok recently took aim at Texas's restrictive abortion law, known as S.B. 8, calling followers to action by encouraging them to submit false tips to the state's — a website created to put the power in citizens' hands by allowing them to anonymously report violators of the near-complete ban.

The law, which was passed in May and went into effect on Sept. 1, doesn't allow for pregnancies to be aborted in Texas once a heartbeat is detected, which is usually around six weeks. State officials also placed the power of enforcing the law in the hands of private citizens, who can sue abortion providers or anyone who helps a woman get an abortion, in an effort to remain aligned with the implications of Roe v. Wade, which protects a woman's decision to get an abortion without excessive government restriction.

Olivia Julianna, an 18-year-old from Fort Bend County, decided to use that to her advantage as she posted a video to TikTok on Aug. 23, sharing her idea to submit fake tips. To avoid any conflict with the app, however, she disguised her video with hashtags like #makeup and #dancing and encouraged viewers to post comments that would keep the video off TikTok's radar. She then went on to say, "It would be bad of all of you to go to ... and send in a fake tip so the website crashes, so women aren't sued for getting abortions in Texas. And it would be even worse if your anonymous tip was about [Texas Governor] Greg Abbott. That would be bad."

Her sarcasm made its point, and people on the site began to submit the very tips she had supposedly discouraged.

"People liked the idea," Julianna tells Yahoo Life. "It was something easy to do and accessible for those who want to make a difference but weren't sure how to do it."

While she couldn't be sure that the call to action would be taken up, she was inspired by a previous prank started by TikTokers to inflate attendance expectations at a campaign rally in June for President Donald Trump in Tulsa, Okla.

"Last year, when President Trump was running for re-election, some TikTokers and teenagers sabotaged his rallies by reserving tickets, then not showing up. That's a very powerful example of how social media can be used to send a message and make a difference," she says. When Trump showed up, his audience in Tulsa was sparse. "I felt the need to speak on the issue at hand because I want people here in Texas to have bodily autonomy and control over their future. That should be every individual's decision — not the government's."

Victoria Hammett, a fellow Gen Z political voice on the app, quickly followed Julianna's lead by posting a video telling her over 754,000 followers to submit fake tips to the website. "It's actually so fun y'all I've sent three tips in already," Hammett commented on her own post.

Shortly thereafter, Sean Wiggs got involved to make the work a lot easier. The 20-year-old suggested creating a bot that would automatically submit an influx of fake tips. "When I saw there was little to no security in the form of CAPTCHA, the idea of using my coding knowledge came to mind," he tells Yahoo Life. "It was something that I felt fell within my skill set, while also helping to clog up the website data."

The next day, he went a step further by creating an iOS shortcut that people could use to quickly implement the coding technology that he was already using. "It takes five seconds," he explained in his video. "And because it uses realistic information, it makes it harder for them to parse through the data."

Wiggs said that he had an understanding of how many people were taking action by tracking the number of visits to his LinkTree, where the link to the iOS shortcut was living. "Over 50,000 people have accessed my code," as of Friday afternoon, he said.

Both he and Julianna were then informed that the website had crashed via direct messages from followers and news articles that they'd seen online. By Sept. 2, a day after the law went into effect and just over one week after Julianna's initial call to action, GoDaddy, the company hosting the tip site, made a statement to the New York Times sharing that it was giving the website's owners, Texas Right to Life, 24 hours to find a new hosting provider before cutting off service. Neither GoDaddy nor Texas Right to Life responded to Yahoo Life's request for comment.

Users who try to access the tip line are now redirected to the Texas Right to Life website.

While the recent work of these young TikTokers has thrust them into the spotlight as activists, both Julianna and Wiggs have been involved in social and political movements in the past, using their social media platforms to educate and activate their Gen Z followers. They both say they intend to continue to do so.

"I want to keep sending a message to all the politicians — to Greg Abbott, to [Texas Lt. Governor] Dan Patrick and to anyone else who wants to continue to strip Texans and Americans of their rights and maintain their status as perpetrators of oppression — that we will not stop fighting for what we believe in," Julianna says. "I will use my platform to highlight their inaction, their ineptitude and their inability to have compassion or do their job. I’m a Mexican American, I’m a Texan, but most importantly I’m a person — and people should always come before politics."

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