When it comes to advertising, Facebook’s usual rule of thumb is “if it pays, it plays.” But it’s taking a decidedly more thoughtful and uncharacteristically measured approach to ads purporting to have cures for the coronavirus or those that want to create panic about it. The move follows Facebook’s earlier efforts to dispel misinformation about the virus on its platform, something Google and Twitter have done, too, and efforts to limit all unnecessary travel to China by Facebook employees.
“We recently implemented a policy to prohibit ads that refer to the coronavirus and create a sense of urgency... or guaranteeing a cure or prevention. We also have policies for surfaces like Marketplace that prohibit similar behavior," a Facebook spokesperson told Business Insider.
Last month, Facebook said in a blog post 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.” That policy didn’t extend to paid advertising, so this addition to the scope of its coronavirus-related measures is a welcome one.
The effects extend way beyond Facebook — Fears of the coronavirus spreading and its impact in China, where the number of cases and related deaths is highest, have already resulted in Apple revising sales expectations, manufacturer Foxconn doing likewise and trying to increase production in other countries, and numerous companies canceling trips to conventions, conferences, and tradeshows.
Watch out for snake oil — Meanwhile, where there’s a crisis there’s an opportunist, so it’s no surprise alleged cures and prophylactics have begun showing up on Amazon. Facebook might still be happy with letting politicians pay to publish lies as advertisements, but at least it’s got more scruples when it comes to what looks likely to become the first pandemic of this century. You can’t win them all. But at least you can win some of them.