As tech and social media giants engage in a kind of Whac-A-Mole for COVID-19 scaremongering and product misinformation on their websites, Facebook says it’s cracking down on ads intended to mislead users about their products on its Marketplace.
A spokesperson for the social media giant told Business Insider, which first reported the news, that it “recently implemented a policy to prohibit ads that refer to the coronavirus and create a sense of urgency, like implying a limited supply, or guaranteeing a cure or prevention.” Additionally, the spokesperson said, Facebook also has Marketplace policies in place that “prohibit similar behaviour.” Gizmodo confirmed the policy with a Facebook spokesperson who clarified that ads will only fall afoul of the policy if an advertiser is promoting a product.
When asked for further information about the policy, the spokesperson told Gizmodo, as an example of the policy, that “ads with claims like face masks are 100% guaranteed to prevent the spread of the virus will not be allowed.” Facebook will also remove posts or ads peddling conspiracy theories or “false claims,” including information related to fake treatments or “cures” for coronavirus, such as drinking bleach to ward off the virus—an outrageous claim that’s nonetheless been circulated on social media—as well as information intended to undermine available information from legitimate health authorities.
The spokesperson said barring ads that “create a sense of urgency” or guarantee treatment or prevention is a recent change, but they said that other elements of the ban were already covered by its existing community standards, which extend to ads. The spokesperson did not respond to further inquiry about how Facebook is enforcing the policy on its Marketplace, and specifically whether the ads in question are reported to Facebook by users or whether the company has implemented some kind of system for weeding them out its own.
In late January, Facebook said in a blog post that in response to the coronavirus outbreak, it would begin removing content with “false claims or conspiracy theories that have been flagged by leading global health organisations and local health authorities that could cause harm to people who believe them,” specifically zeroing in on misinformation that discouraged users from seeking medical help or taking necessary precautions.
Facebook additionally said that it would “block or restrict hashtags used to spread misinformation on Instagram, and are conducting proactive sweeps to find and remove as much of this content as we can.” But a quick sweep of Instagram indicates those “proactive sweeps” aren’t as effective at limiting those hashtags as Facebook would like us to believe. Hashtags like “killcoronavirus,” “killscoronavirus,” and “coronaviruscure” turned up hundreds of posts on the platform.
Another e-commerce giant, meanwhile, is also working to curb misinformation and skyrocketing price on coronavirus-related listings. Amazon is currently trying (and failing) to bar listings for products making “unapproved medical marketing claims regarding coronavirus or the flu” as well as warned sellers against price-gouging face masks.
So what we have here is yet more evidence to indicate neither company is capable of adequately managing their own respective monstrosities and curbing abuse on their platforms when it counts. Great.