Facebook will no longer accept ads that discourage people from getting vaccines, the company said in a statement Tuesday. It’s part of a larger push toward reliable information about vaccines amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Kang-Xing Jin, Facebook’s head of health, and Rob Leathern, the company’s director of product management, said that while a Covid-19 vaccine isn’t expected for some time, public health officials think it is “especially important” to get this flu vaccine this year “to minimize the risk of concurrent flu and COVID-19.”
That effort includes encouraging Facebook users to get the seasonal flu vaccine.
Jin and Leathern said that, starting this week in the United States, Facebook will provide information about the flu vaccine and where to get it through the Preventive Health tool on its mobile app. They said that users will also see vaccine reminders in their news feed along with “resources from health authorities.” The platform will roll this out to other countries in the coming weeks.
Facebook previously banned ads with “vaccine hoaxes” as identified by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. They do, however, allow for “ads that advocate for or against legislation or government policies around vaccines—including a Covid-19 vaccine.”
This is another step Facebook has announced recently to clean up what is allowed on its platform in terms of organic posts and advertising. On Monday, the company said it wouldn’t allow content that aims to dispel the Holocaust.
Facebook has long had a problem with anti-vax misinformation on its platform, though it does submit organic posts to its fact-checking protocols. However, instead of banning organic content that promotes this fear mongering, Facebook decided last year it would reduce the ranking of anti-vax content in its news feed and would not promote it into users’ feeds on Instagram through the Explore tab or on hashtag pages. It also banned advertisers from targeting individuals based on their potential interest in “vaccine controversies.”
Around the same time, the American Medical Association called on tech companies, including Facebook, to do more about anti-vax misinformation. “As physicians, we are concerned that the proliferation of this type of health-related misinformation will undermine sound science, further decrease vaccinations, and persuade people to make medical decisions that could spark the spread of easily preventable diseases,” AMA CEO James Madara wrote in a letter.
A recent report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a British nonprofit, found the misinformation about a Covid-19 vaccine had been prevalent on the platform since the early days of the pandemic.
“If we removed all rumors and hoaxes, the content would still be available elsewhere on the internet, social media ecosystem—or even around the dinner table,” Facebook spokesperson Devon Kearns told nitronet. “By leaving this content up we can provide people with important information and context instead of creating an information vacuum.”