Facebook bans coronavirus ‘miracle cure’ ads

Does drinking bleach cure the coronavirus?

NO. Not unless by “cure” you really mean “will potentially kill you before Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has a chance to.”

That’s why, following the World Health Organization (WHO) having declared COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern, Facebook late last month said it would help by trying to limit the spread of nonsense on its platform, including, for example, snakeoil posts about the fake miracle bleach cure.

On Tuesday, Facebook took it a step further. As Business Insider reported, the platform plans to ban ads that promise to cure the contagious illness or that try to “create a sense of urgency” about it.

Facebook says it’s also going to take down fake news about the virus entirely if posts put people at risk.

Fearmongering has already got people running for the exits – or, in this case, price-gouging face masks on Amazon and flocking to Facebook groups to buy medical masks in bulk.

According to MarketWatch, as of Wednesday, the COVID-19 tally was up to 81,245 confirmed cases worldwide and at least 2,770 deaths.

Facebook sent Business Insider this statement about its plans to limit the panic:

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 will be using its third-party fact-checkers to filter out the dross and suppress it in its newsfeed, as it’s done in the past with the “miracle cure” posts we all hate. In its January announcement, it said it would remove any false information about the outbreak that’s been “flagged by leading global health organizations and local health authorities that could cause harm to people who believe them.”

From the 30 January post:

We are doing this as an extension of our existing policies to remove content that could cause physical harm.

Facebook said it’s focusing on claims designed to discourage people from seeking treatment or taking appropriate precautions.

That includes false cures or prevention methods or claims that create confusion about available health resources.

Facebook will also block or restrict hashtags used to spread misinformation on its Instagram platform, and, as of late January, was conducting proactive sweeps to find and remove as much misleading or false content as possible.

Besides the posts that could harm people physically, concern over the illness has attracted those humans who like to take advantage of emergencies to spread their own brands of digital infection.

As it is, the Sophos Security Team has already seen a fake “safety measures” email, purporting to be from the WHO, that turned out to be a phishing scam.

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