For years, Facebook has been the Wild West for individuals selling miracle health cures. In groups, hundreds of thousands of people discuss alternative treatments for autism, cancer, HIV, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses. However, Facebook announced that pages and groups that promote “miracle cures” will have their content ranked lower in their News Feed.
In a blog post, Facebook announced there plan to reduce health misinformation on its platform. Facebook and other social media platforms have been under immense scrutiny for their inability to manage the spread of vaccine and health misinformation online.
For a year, WOACB has written about multiple groups that promote miracle cures like urine therapy, bleach, colloidal silver, and black salve. In our investigations, we have seen parents discuss using unregulated treatments to cure autism, diabetes, cancer, and other severe illnesses in children.
After measles outbreaks took hold in multiple cities in the United States, Congressman Adam Schiff wrote a letter to Facebook to change their policies on anti-vaccine information on their platform. Facebook responded by not allowing groups or pages to pay to promote vaccine misinformation. Additionally, Facebook removed groups and pages from their search feature.
Now Facebook is directing their attention to health misinformation. In the post, the company said,
“People come together on Facebook to talk about, advocate for, and connect around things like nutrition, fitness and health issues. But in order to help people get accurate health information and the support they need, it’s imperative that we minimize health content that is sensational or misleading.”
Facebook said they made two changes to reduce health miracle claims from spreading. First, they said they determine if the post makes sensational health claims, exaggerates, or misleads people. The second update relates to products that promote miracle health cures. For instance, posts that encourage pills or supplements to aid in weight loss Facebook will consider misleading.
The company says their system identifies phrases that are commonly used in posts related to miracle cures. Based upon these phrases, Facebook will place the post further down in the News Feed. Pages that promote miracle cures will notice that their posts will not be distributed as frequently into News Feeds.Facebook believes this will help reduce the content of health misinformation in the News Feed. However, the company did not address the thousands of groups on their platform dedicated to promoting dangerous health cures. While the groups’ posts may not end up in the News Feed, the groups will remain in the search feature.
Whether the change will improve the spread of misinformation on Facebook remains to be seen. Changes to the anti-vaccine groups have done little to stop the groups and pages from growing. Additionally, misinformation related to vaccines continues to spread through groups, pages, and News Feeds.
For now, Facebook has taken a baby step to clean up its platform. Kerri Rivera, a woman that instructs parents to give bleach enemas to their autistic children, recently lost her groups and pages on Facebook. Perhaps the next step will be for Facebook to identify the administrators and page owners and boot them from their platform.
*Katie Joy is a columnist and hosts Without A Crystal Ball on Patheos Non-Religious Channel. She writes articles on parenting, disability advocacy, debunking pseudoscience, atheism, and crimes against women and children.
She co-hosts the YouTube show, “The Smoking Nun,” with Kyle Curtis. The show airs weekly and tackles pseudoscience, current events, and crime stories.
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