TikTok, Reddit, and Facebook are dealing with waves of content about ivermectin, an anti-parasite drug that has picked up traction among anti-vaxxers as a COVID-19 treatment. Sales of ivermectin meant for animals, as well as calls to poison control centers, have increased enough that the FDA issued a consumer update explaining why people shouldn’t take it to treat or prevent COVID-19.
You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y'all. Stop it. https://t.co/TWb75xYEY4— U.S. FDA (@US_FDA) August 21, 2021
On TikTok, Rolling Stone found videos, some of which had more than a million views, promoting ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment under tags like #ivermectin4covid and #ivermectinworks. TikTok has since removed the videos for violating community guidelines and blocked the tags, and a spokesperson says TikTok will continue removing related videos and hashtags. The #ivermectin tag is still up, though many of the most popular videos in the tag are of healthcare professionals debunking misinformation.
On Reddit this week, moderators of several hundred subreddits called on the platform to take action against COVID-19 misinformation, including banning subreddits that spread medical disinformation.
Disagreeing with the requests for outright bans, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman shared a response in r/announcements, saying “Reddit is a place for open and authentic discussion and debate. This includes conversations that question or disagree with popular consensus.” The post goes on to say that Reddit will take action when people promote fraud or encourage harm, as well as quarantine certain subreddits so that they don’t appear in searches and can’t be accessed without logging in.
Moderators criticized Huffman’s post, saying subreddits that promote the use of ivermectin encourage harm but have been allowed to stay. According to a spokesperson, Reddit is currently reviewing r/ivermectin and related communities on the site. Reddit recently quarantined r/NoNewNormal, an anti-mask, anti-vax subreddit.
People in Facebook groups have also been sharing misinformation and making sponsored posts that promote and advertise ivermectin for treating or preventing COVID-19. Facebook has been widely criticized for the amount of COVID-19 misinformation that circulates on the site.
According to a spokesperson, Facebook removes content “that attempts to buy, sell, donate or ask for Ivermectin.” They added, “We also enforce against any account or group that violates our COVID-19 and vaccine policies, including claims that Ivermectin is a guaranteed cure or guaranteed prevention, and we don’t allow ads promoting Ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19.” Still, public and private anti-vax groups try to dodge moderation by using euphemisms like “ivm” or “moo juice” for ivermectin.
TikTok, Reddit, Facebook, and other social sites have struggled throughout the pandemic to reckon with the rapid spread of medical misinformation. Platforms have updated their policies, added links to authorities like the CDC, and removed millions of posts. But as the pandemic continues and misinformation evolves, real solutions — social distancing, masking, and vaccines — remain the same.