Facebook is banning ads that promise to cure, prevent, or otherwise incite panic around COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, the company has confirmed in a statement first given to Business Insider. The company added that it has similar policies for its Marketplace platform where Facebook users can buy and sell items.
In a statement subsequently given to The Verge, Facebook said it is working to support the World Health Organization’s efforts, “including taking steps to stop 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. For example, ads with claims like face masks are 100% guaranteed to prevent the spread of the virus will not be allowed.”
The statement comes less than a month after the company announced that it would be removing misinformation about the new coronavirus from both its Facebook and Instagram platforms. At the time it said that this policy would include any content about fake cures or prevention methods, or misleading claims about what health resources are available. A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to The Verge that these original policies also applied to ads, but that the rules around using fearmongering to sell products are a more recent update.
Facebook’s position on coronavirus misinformation is similar to its position on anti-vaccination content. Last year it said that it would remove anti-vaccine groups and pages from its recommendations, and that it would not allow ads to target users based on related terms. However, doubts have been raised about Facebook’s policing. Buzzfeed News reported in January that some anti-vaccination ads still appear on the platform, which Facebook claimed did not violate its policies.
”Our policy is to ban ads containing vaccine misinformation,” Facebook told Buzzfeed News at the time, adding that its policy does not ban advertising “on the basis that it expresses opposition to vaccines.”
Facebook has also been criticised for allowing misinformation in political campaign ads. Earlier this year, the company justified its “warts and all” approach to political speech by saying that “people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them.” The company’s position has been criticized both internally and externally, but its proponents say that a private company like Facebook has no place policing political speech.
As well as having to update its content policies, Facebook has also had to cancel its participation in a number of conferences as a result of the outbreak. It cancelled an upcoming marketing conference earlier this month, and has also announced it will not be attending the Game Developers Conference next month.
Update February 26th, 11:15AM ET: Added updated statement from Facebook about which ads are banned, and clarification about which policies already applied after January announcement.