As the world inches closer to the rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine, Facebook has yet again been caught taking money from anti-vaxx campaigners and conspiracy theorists to promote their harmful content to more of the tech giant’s users.
After years of warnings that anti-vaccine campaigners were using the platform to recruit and spread their anti-science message, Facebook announced it was banning any ad discouraging vaccination in October this year. (Prior to this, they’d just banned any ads with vaccine misinformation.)
Sure, the ban came 10 months into a global pandemic and anti-vaccine content is still allowed, but hey, it’s something.
Not long after the ban was implemented, reports came out that anti-vaccination ads were still running on the social media behemoth’s platforms.
And still, months later, there are a number of active Facebook advertisements by high profile Australian conspiracy theorists and anti-vaccine campaigners, as spotted by misinformation researchers and contributors at global fact-check organisation First Draft.
In these cases, Facebook has taken thousands of dollars to promote their anti-vaxx beliefs and, in some cases, their events to hundreds of thousands of Australians.
During the Queensland state election, Facebook ran more than 20 advertisements for the anti-vaccine party Informed Medical Options Party and its candidates. Facebook took more than $2,300 from one one of its candidates, Toni McMahon.
In the ads, McMahon denies being anti-vaccine — despite espousing promoting anti-vaccine beliefs and rhetoric — while also promoting her candidacy for the election.
Additionally, the Facebook page for the Australian anti-vaxx, COVID-19-denying group MMAMV (which stands for Millions March Against Mandatory Vaccines) is still running Facebook ads promoting its upcoming events. In the case of its Melbourne event, this event would break current public health restrictions.
In response, Facebook removed some of the ads — the ones that explicitly mentioned anti-vaccine ideologies — while leaving the rest promoting their explicitly anti-vaccine events, accounts and even political candidates.
“We’ve removed a number of ads from this account for violating our policy that discourages people from getting vaccinated,” a Facebook company spokesperson said to Gizmodo in a statement.
Facebook’s policy on anti-vaccine content still allows the proliferation of views that put people at real risk — not just the people who choose not to get vaccinated, but also the people they make decisions for, those who they come in contact with and the rest of the community.
And what this shows is that they’re even breaking their weak promise to stop taking money to spread these views further.