Topline: Facebook will begin taking down any ads that promise a cure for the coronavirus, as the platform battles the rapid spread of conspiracy theories and fake cures—including drinking bleach to cure the disease—that have erupted in panic and confusion over the epidemic on social media.
- A Facebook spokesperson told Forbes it will remove ads for products “that refer to the coronavirus and create a sense of urgency, like implying a limited supply, or guaranteeing a cure or prevention.”
- The spokesperson added that, for example, “ads with claims like face masks that are 100% guaranteed to prevent the spread of the virus will not be allowed.”
- Health experts warn the spread of misinformation, fake cures and conspiracy theories about coronavirus can actively cause harm and undermine trust in government institutions. “We need a vaccine against misinformation,” said Mike Ryan, head of the WHO health emergencies program, in a meeting this month.
- A number of false cures have spread on Facebook in the past few months, including one claiming that drinking bleach can cure the virus, according to FactCheck.org.
- Facebook already said in January it will outright remove posts flagged by global health organizations and local health authorities with potentially harmful false cures or prevention methods for the coronavirus.
- But the company also said last month it won’t remove other false claims about the virus, opting instead to fact-check, demote them in the news feed and point users to reliable information from the World Health Organization.
Key background: Facebook has struggled to contain disinformation since the 2016 election and has faced criticism for not removing ads from politicians that contain lies. But misleading or untrue medical claims have been a particularly thorny issue for the platform. Facebook banned misleading ads about vaccines last year, but private Facebook groups have become hotbeds of medical misinformation, and some ads expressing skepticism about vaccines haven’t been taken down. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly said that Facebook shouldn’t be an arbiter of truth, and company policy is to be usually reluctant to remove posts and ads at all.
News peg: More than 81,000 people globally have been infected with the virus as of Wednesday, and more 2,700 have died. The World Health Organization hasn’t declared the virus a pandemic, but Europe, the Middle East and the U.S. are preparing for an outbreak as cases outside China continue to surge.
I’m a San Francisco-based reporter covering breaking news at Forbes. Previously, I’ve reported for USA Today, Business Insider, The San Francisco Business Times and San Jose Inside. I studied journalism at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and was an editor at The Daily Orange, the university’s independent student newspaper. Follow me on Twitter @rachsandl or shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org.