On Tuesday, October 13, Facebook announced a new movement to reduce misinformation on their website and help promote public health, revealing that they are going to stop allowing ads that discourage people from getting a vaccine.
Facebook has frequently been accused of being a significant contributor to the online spread of misinformation. One Forbes article reported on research showing “Facebook to be the referrer site for untrustworthy news sources over 15% of the time. By contrast, Facebook referred users to authoritative news sites only 6% of the time.” Evidence also suggests that Facebook was one of the main social media sites used by foreign actors attempting to sway the outcome of the 2016 election. 2020 has seen Facebook take several mitigatory efforts on this front.
Facebook recently stated that it would indefinitely prohibit social issue, electoral, or political ads starting November 3 after the polls close. They also expressed an intent to try and keep people informed, as it may take longer than normal to get election results this year. For instance, Facebook explained that they will run a notification at the top of Facebook and Instagram “directing people to the Voting Information Center… But, if a candidate or party declares premature victory before a race is called by major media outlets, we will add more specific information in the notifications that counting is still in progress and no winner has been determined.”
A couple weeks ago, in late September, Facebook shut down fake accounts that are believed to have been tied to Russian military intelligence. Tuesday of last week also saw the announcement of a Facebook ban on accounts, pages, and groups representing the conspiracy theory QAnon.
Then, on Monday, Facebook announced that it was going to ban content that “denies or distorts the Holocaust.” In its announcement, Facebook explained that their decision is connected to rising anti-Semitism across the globe, explaining that: “According to a recent survey of adults in the US aged 18-39, almost a quarter said they believed the Holocaust was a myth, that it had been exaggerated or they weren’t sure.”
The statement also suggested an intention to encourage education on the issue, saying, “Institutions focused on Holocaust research and remembrance…have noted that Holocaust education is also a key component in combatting anti-Semitism. Beginning later this year, we will direct anyone to credible information off Facebook if they search for terms associated with the Holocaust or its denial on our platform.”
And just a day after that, Facebook announced the steps it intends to take to “help support vaccine efforts.” These steps include a “flu vaccine information campaign,” working with “global health partners” to increase immunization rates, and banning ads that discourage people from getting a vaccine. They also have a Preventative Health Tool that is currently only available on Facebook’s mobile app. The Preventative Health Tool will help people view checkup recommendations from health organizations, find nearby locations to receive these services, track checkups, and set reminders.
Facebook already disallows ads with “vaccine hoaxes that have been publicly identified by leading global health organizations.” Now this ban extends to ads that explicitly discourage getting a vaccine.
The ad ban will not, however, extend to “ads that advocate for or against legislation or government policies around vaccines – including a COVID-19 vaccine.”