Facebook has taken new steps to minimize the spread of misleading health information and posts peddling spammy health products.
The social media network said on Tuesday that it had changed its algorithms in June to reduce the spread of posts that make “exaggerated or sensational health claims” like miracle cures or attempt to sell health products like diet pills.
The change could also impact sensationalized anti-vaccine content. Previously, Facebook only downplayed anti-vaccine content that global health organizations identified as hoaxes.
“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,” Travis Yeh, Facebook product manager, said in a blog post.
In March, Facebook took similar steps to reduce the distribution of anti-vaccine information in groups, pages, ads, search, and posts. The company also said it could prohibit anti-vaccination promoters from using Facebook’s tools to fundraise.
But neither of Facebook’s change in March or in June actually removes any spam or misinformation from its service.
The company has previously said it has a responsibility to preserve the balance between safety and freedom of expression and does not want to be the arbiter of truth. Mark Zuckerberg reiterated the sentiment last week at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen, Colo.
“I do not think we want to go so far towards saying that a private company prevents you from saying something it thinks is factually incorrect,” Zuckerberg said. “That to me just feels like it’s too far.”
So while the content will remain, Facebook says it shouldn’t appear in any recommendations, search results, or news feeds.
Facebook said it will target content that use phrases and keywords commonly used for sensational health claims or to promote health products. But it’s unclear how Facebook will determine whether a health product is ineffective or harmful.
For example, Facebook doesn’t want users to be inundated with ads or posts about weight-loss pills. But it’s unclear if the update also applies to vitamins that are said to boost metabolism and aid in weight loss.
Facebook said it’s working with experts and health care professionals to identify emerging scams and to reduce low-quality health-related content on the social network. The company says it’s focusing on the most egregious offenders.
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