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Facebook bans ads with false claims about coronavirus

Facebook this week has reassured everyone that it’s going to ban ads that promise “cures” for the Covid-19 virus (a.k.a. the coronavirus). Whether it can actually do so remains to be seen.

Both Facebook and Instagram first mentioned their interest in banning phony “cures” back in January, as part of their larger plan to banmisinformation surrounding the coronavirus.

Facebook confirmed its interest in banning such ads to Business Insider today, saying:

We recently implemented a policy to prohibit ads that refer to the coronavirus and create a sense of urgency, like implying a limited supply, or guaranteeing a cure or prevention. We also have policies for surfaces like Marketplace that prohibit similar behavior.

Facebook would join the likes of Amazon, which warned sellers it would remove listings for items that claimed to cure or treat the coronavirus. Google also launched an SOS alert for the coronavirus, which arranges the search results to share news stories and sources from health organizations.

Last month, Facebook said it would remove “content with false claims or conspiracy theories that have been flagged by leading global health organizations and local health authorities that could cause harm to people who believe them.” This would include “claims related to false cures or prevention methods — like drinking bleach cures the coronavirus — or claims that create confusion about health resources that are available.”

Given that fears of infection are starting to result in greater public upset and major tech gatherings — like MWC and, most recently, GDC — becoming ghost towns, this feels more important now than it did last month. One would hope Facebook will actually be able to ban ads of this nature, but its track record isn’t looking so great. The company also committed to not allowing anti-vaccination ads to target users, but those still crop up on the platform. And as my colleague Bryan pointed out, it’s only labelled a handful of posts with a misinformation tag, despite its professed desire to curb the spread of such posts.

Facebook also said last month it would be helping researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health and the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan by “sharing aggregated and anonymized mobility data and high resolution population density maps to help inform their forecasting models for the spread of the virus.”

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