Facebook announced this week that it’s temporarily banning ads and commerce listings for medical face masks on two of its platforms—Facebook and Instagram—in light of the novel coronavirus outbreak. Company officials said that they were against people exploiting this public health emergency to make a profit.
According to Facebook, the new measure will be rolled out over the next few days. Face masks have become scarce during the coronavirus outbreak. The U.S. Surgeon General has begged the public not to buy them, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that shortages of protective equipment put healthcare workers caring for patients with the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, at risk.
That scarcity, besides leaving healthcare workers ill-equipped to deal with the health crisis, has also led to price hikes, which is what Facebook is targeting with this new measure. E-commerce sites like Amazon, Walmart and eBay have been struggling with price gouging on face masks, hand sanitizer and hazmat suits, among others.
“We’re banning ads and commerce listings selling medical face masks on Instagram and Facebook. Supplies are short, prices are up, and we’re against people exploiting this public health emergency,” said Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, on Twitter.
Rob Leathern, director of product management at Facebook, echoed Mosseri’s statement. However, he added that Facebook anticipates that “profiteers will evolve their approach as we enforce on these ads.” Leathern asked the public to report an ad for face masks on Facebook if they see one so that the company’s teams could take action.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend that the general public use face masks or N95 respirator masks to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. Experts say that surgical face masks (the most common type of mask you’ll see out there, typically made of paper) are designed to be used by people who are already sick, as they help protect others from the wearer’s expectorated droplets.
In addition to banning ads and commerce listings for face masks, Facebook has also prohibited people from making health or medical claims related to the novel coronavirus in product listings, including listings that guarantee that a product will prevent someone from contracting it. Facebook is also acting on misinformation and will remove content with false claims or conspiracy theories related to the outbreak that has been flagged by health authorities.
On Sunday, WHO reported that there were 105,586 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide. Of those, 80,859 are in China. In the U.S., there have been 213 reported cases and 11 deaths.