A private Facebook group, USA Camping Resource Center, doesn’t offer tips on tents, bedrolls, or water purifiers. Instead, it’s a hub for information about abortion access in post-Roe America. Camping is one of several authority- and algorithm-evading code words on social media used as substitutes for “abortion”; others include “fishing,” “shoe-shopping,” and “bookstore.” As NBC News reported on June 30, “The posts follow similar coded language trends used by people trying to avoid algorithmic censorship on social media or potential detection by law enforcement.”
Two almost identically worded tweets from May 4, 2022—the earliest examples of the message I’ve found. Text: “If you are a person who suddenly finds yourself with a need to go camping in another state, a state friendly towards camping, just know that I will happily drive you, support you, and not talk about the camping trip to anyone ever.” Link and link.
On TikTok, the “camping” message—as in this video from the mayor of Waterville, Maine—is set to “Paris,” a 2017 song by the Chainsmokers with the refrain “If we go down, then we go down together.” “[W]hile the electro-pop hit began as a narrative of two lovers’ reality-bending escapades, it has now become a rallying cry for abortion access,” wrote María Luisa Paúl in a June 30 article for the Washington Post. (The Chainsmokers, she added, have tweeted that “it’s beautiful to see our music playing a role in bringing people together.”)
“The states with the best camping.” Source (probably not the original one).
Camping-substitution is an example of algospeak: “code words or turns of phrase users have adopted in an effort to create a brand-safe lexicon that will avoid getting their posts removed or down-ranked by content moderation systems,” as Taylor Lorenz put it in an April 8 article for the Washington Post. The practice “is becoming increasingly common across the Internet as people seek to bypass content moderation filters on social media platforms such as TikTok, YouTube, Instagram and Twitch.” Lorenz cites “unalive” instead of “dead” and “panini” instead of “pandemic.” Algospeak is somewhat akin to “Voldemorting” (from the Harry Potter-verse villain)—a term coined by Australian social-media researcher Emily van der Nagel in 2018 to describe “not mentioning words or names in order to avoid a forced connection.”
While Voldemorting avoids publicizing an antagonist—“TFG” for Donald Trump, for example—camping and similar euphemisms are used as self-protection, to avoid punishment by a social media algorithm that polices online speech (or by actual police enforcing harsh abortion bans).
Not everyone, however, chooses to take cover under defensive code words. In a June 30 tweet, Robin Ann Barron used the camping meme but substituted abortion, and defied Twitter to take retribution. (“Elon,” is, of course, Elon Musk, Twitter’s presumptive next owner.) So far, the tweet is still on the platform and her account is still live.
If you are a person who suddenly finds themself in need of abortion in another state, a state where abortion is legal, you should know that there are those who are willing to assist you.— RobinAnnBarron (@RobinAnnBarron) June 30, 2022
Go ahead, Twitter, cancel free speech. We’re watching, Elon.
Choice (May 16, 2022)
What we talk about when we talk about abortion (May 5, 2022)
“And She Lived Happily Ever After”: camping poster sold by DoveBunnyFun and other Etsy vendors.