How The Internet Facilitates Dishonesty

Sometimes, just skimming the news is enough to trigger heartburn.

In addition to the hourly reminders that our country is being “governed” (note quotation marks) by a dangerously ignorant lunatic and the daily disclosures of corruption and cronyism, we are routinely reminded of the difficulty of separating all manner of informational wheat from both inadvertent and purposeful chaff.

The other day, the Guardian carried a story about dishonesty in–of all things– a women’s fertility app.

I didn’t even know such things existed. It would never have occurred to me that fertility could be managed on line–but evidently, in the age of the Internet, pretty much everything is subject to online interventions.

The problem is, it turns out that this particular app comes with an agenda.

A popular women’s health and fertility app sows doubt about birth control, features claims from medical advisers who are not licensed to practice in the US, and is funded and led by anti-abortion, anti-gay Catholic campaigners, a Guardian investigation has found.

The Femm app, which collects personal information about sex and menstruation from users, has been downloaded more than 400,000 times since its launch in 2015, according to developers. It has users in the US, the EU, Africa and Latin America, its operating company claims.

Although it markets itself as a way to “avoid or achieve pregnancy,” what the app really does is create doubts about the safety of birth control.

Femm receives much of its income from private donors including the Chiaroscuro Foundation, a charity backed almost exclusively by Sean Fieler, a wealthy Catholic hedge-funder based in New York.

Fieler’s foundation has long supported organizations– and politicians such as the vice-president, Mike Pence – that oppose birth control and abortion. Fieler has criticized Republicans for failing to outlaw abortion, calling their reticence “the tyranny of moderation” in a recent editorial.

The Chiaroscuro Foundation, with Fieler as its chairman and main backer, provided $1.79m to the developers of the Femm app over the last three years, according to IRS statements. Fieler also sits on the board of directors for the Femm Foundation, a not-for-profit which operates the app.

The Femm app asserts that “hormonal” birth control–i.e., the pill– may be “deleterious to a woman’s health” and promotes learning one’s “cycles” as  a safer, “natural” way to avoid pregnancy. This is medically inaccurate information.

“The birth control pill is one of the greatest health achievements of the 20th century,” said Dr Nathaniel DeNicola, an OB-GYN with the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, which has studied fertility apps extensively. “This is part of standard women’s healthcare.”

“Natural” family planning methods using fertility awareness are known to have a failure rate of about 25 unintended pregnancies for every 100 women a year in the US.

I wonder how many women have downloaded this app in good faith, relying on the professional advice of “doctors” who are unlicensed in the U.S. and who are peddling information inconsistent with sound science and best practices.

For that matter, I wonder how many other apps, websites and blogs are providing information they know or should know is both untrue and potentially damaging, whether for ideological reasons or financial ones. We already know about the so-called “dark web,” where alt-right white nationalist propaganda radicalizes the vulnerable, and conspiracy theories ensnare the gullible. Add to that the new “deep fake” technologies, and the potential for mischief (and worse) is enormous.

I have no idea how we combat the avalanche of misinformation that is facilitated by the Internet’s low entry barriers. It seems clear that the “big guys”–the social media mavens–don’t know how either.

Ultimately, better education (and better mental healthcare), plus development of some sort of “Good housekeeping seal of approval” denoting credibility might act as warning devices, but for right now, it’s a Wild West–and the bad guys aren’t wearing black hats so that we can recognize them.


  1. A Facebook post (HuffPost I think); Clarence Thomas stated there are anti-abortion cases coming before SCOTUS which include banning birth control, this is an issue we need to watch for. It is an issue which Thomas supports. Locally we could use full information about Pence’s anti-abortion law and what it prohibits in addition to abortion, does it provide alternatives othr than promoting abstinence? His closing down of Planned Parenthood clinics in the southern part of Indiana resulted in a near epidemic of HIV and did result in an epidemic of opioid addiction. I have not seen statistics regarding increased birth rates or problems due to illegal abortions.

    “Ultimately, better education (and better mental healthcare), plus development of some sort of “Good housekeeping seal of approval” denoting credibility might act as warning devices,…”

    Today’s blog works hand-in-glove with “Sex and the State” and the lack of intelligent information provided in Indiana’s education system or full disclosure from the Legislature. The problem of sex activity begins these days in middle school if not before; it is no longer a high school age problem. When freedom of speech is more important than common sense and credible information it becomes a dangerous, misunderstood and abused freedom much as the 2nd Amendment has become the cause of deaths due to the ready availability of military weapons to one and all. Long ago, my husband was a U.S. Marine; part of their training had them holding their penis in one hand and their rifle in the other chanting, “This is my weapon, this is my gun; one is for protection the other for fun.” That falls into the category of “Boys will be boys.”; another major problem concerning birth control which is and has always been the responsibility of girls and women.

  2. It’s shocking! A religion-backed organization lying to its patrons! The next thing you know we will discover that there are some other really shocking things going on behind the cloak of piety in the Catholic church. This does raise the question of what and who can we trust – ever. The internet makes it easy to lie and each lie sets a precedent for the next one. We’re in deep sh*t.

  3. The internet is just a medium. It can’t be bad or good — it is inherently neutral. People are more complex, and the market is what it is — “buyer beware.”

    I was so upset when they found the same cleaning agents in laundry soap with a $4 difference in the grocery store.

    The internet, unlike most grocery stores, has a rating system which works exceptionally well. I collected the Google ratings here:

    Users appear satisfied with 4.25 of 5 stars.

    This has nothing to do with the internet, but it does have everything to do how favorite data gathering apps have become. I suspect these women realize the information they pump into this app is being used for other purposes. Some may be nefarious.


  4. under your breath,mindfull ideas,suppress others with a program that is seemingly harmless. did anyone ever look at the writers as canidates for anger management? down low loathsome mindless freaks who prey upon ,well women…for gratification.. this subject is pure control. i believe, we all need some thought about what we should do,before we act. but to follow a cult,er,o.k. you know where im at…if mom and apple pie wasnt enough, who the hell scams women for self gratification?i read the article. and again,when explained here,more background on who, its seems the rehelm of things that has become too out there.. why didnt they just accuse mother nature for being honest? and your mom wrong..oh,damn, if these people vote,were aborted ….

  5. Two thoughts or questions come to mind:

    1. What is wrong with these male assholes who are hellbent on controlling women’s lives and reproductive health?

    2. What is wrong with the women who choose to become the prey of these jerks or online BS without doing any research to make sure the people are legitimate doctors?

    This reminds me of the millions of dollars of taxpayer money that pence gave to a Pennsylvania company to create fake “medical clinics” in Indiana to lie to women about abortions and counsel them to continue with unwanted pregnancies. The people in those clinics claimed to be medical professionals, but they were not. Those “clinics” may still be operating in this state.

    Until men are able to get pregnant and give birth they should have no say whatsoever in women’s reproductive health issues.

  6. I say that 400,000 people in the last 4 years falling for the Catholic “natural birth control” lie is a marked improvement over what was occurring during the mid-twentieth century with Catholic women.

  7. No one should rely on social media for real information. Everything should be checked and verified independently.

  8. There is a name for people who use the “Rhythm method” for birth control. The word is “Parents.”

  9. From the Guardian Article: “The birth control pill is one of the greatest health achievements of the 20th century,” said Dr Nathaniel DeNicola, an OB-GYN with the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, which has studied fertility apps extensively.

    Well this would explain Indiana’s abstinence only teaching in schools. We cannot have Science challenging Theocracy here in Hoosier land.

    There is a whole industry out there that exists to plant doubts to reinforce an Anti-Science thought process. Anti-Vaxers, “Creation Science”, denial of our landings on the moon, climate change, etc., among others can find web sites to reinforce their beliefs.

    Hand in hand with this Femm app are the vitamin and mineral supplement scams. You can go into any store that sells these supplements and find all sorts of implied promises concerning better health if you take this pill.

    The FDA exerts some control over these claims, but they do not verify or test these products concerning ingredients.

  10. “It is now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics or chemistry.”

    H. L. Mencken

  11. “The other day, the Guardian carried a story about dishonesty in–of all things– a women’s fertility app.”

    So; again we are looking to and relying on the UK for truth on an issue which could not be more personal. The UK is the country we held the Revolutionary War against to gain our right to freedom and now we seek information, guidance, warnings and truth from them daily. I watched the movie, “Sunrise At Campobello” yesterday regarding Franklin D. Roosevelt’s battle to overcome disability from infantile paralysis. But it also gave a clear picture of the political situation in the 1920s; Roosevelt’s principles were questioned regarding his nomination of Alfred Smith for president in 1924 due to Smith’s Catholic religion. Roosevelt’s basis was that, if this country refused to elect a president due to his religion, he shouldn’t be qualified for any political office. Today; the Catholic religion is a primary source of misleading and erroneous information regarding our sex lives as well as birth control. It and other male dominated religions have bastardized religions to become evangelicals whose anti-almost everything and everyone’s personal beliefs into the Republican campaign foundation. At that time; America’s place in world politics was questionable, today there is no question that we are no longer trusted, the UK and Germany are vying for our once firm place as the most powerful. Trump, with no principles and no decency accomplished losing this hard won place in his first year in office. Where are our principles? We are paying the consequences for allowing this to happen.

    A line from the movie by Eleanor Roosevelt (whether fact or the screenwriter’s choice) should be guiding us in these election years, “In public service one should choose principles without thought of consequences.” The current Democratic party could use this as a guiding position; fight for democracy for all, Rule of Law and uphold their oath to support the Constitution at whatever cost. If that cost loses them corporate money; that principle is a stand against Citizens United which is causing this country to implode and will keep Trump in the White House in 2020 and keep Republicans in our beds and denying us health care.

  12. Religion, Republicans and ignorance are all linked. They all are part of the control mechanism developed over the millennia to make women second-class citizens and property of the male.

    Perhaps one could say that testosterone poisoning is the root of all these problems. After all, if we hadn’t out-reproduced our predation or attrition, we would be extinct. Instead, we are the most populous mammal on Earth – and what a fine job we’re doing of treating our life-support system with care and dignity.

  13. So many states, these days, are trying to make both abortion and contraception illegal, it’s frightening.

    What is the result of no contraception? Pregnancy.
    What is the result of no contraception AND no abortion? Sex slavery.

    There’s the goal.

  14. App design is a business motivated as always by make more money now regardless of the impact on any others ever.

    Smartphones for pleasure are entertainment media.

    Caveat emptor.

  15. daleb,

    Because it is being backed by a wealthy hedge funder who happens to be Catholic does not necessarily mean it is being backed by the Catholic Church.

  16. I wish Judith Miller would chime in and let us know her thoughts with regard to the subject matter of today’s post.

  17. Hormonal birth control not only protects against unwanted pregnancy, it protects against ovarian cancer by preventing ovulation. Discouraging women from taking hormonal birth control is more than just bad advice, it could cause unnecessary cancer deaths. Women (and men, for that matter) should be better informed about gynecological health. Recall that one member of Congress who claimed that pregnancy could not result from rape because the trauma of rape shuts down the ovaries? He actually was citing some gynecologist who was promoting this garbage. While ovulation, conception and pregnancy occur inside the body, they are not mysterious just because we can’t visualize what’s going on, any more than we can see individual spermatozoa swimming around in semen. I fault the educational system for promoting such ignorance. Sex education is equated with promoting promiscuity, and is just plain stupid.

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