Facebook defends decision to leave anti-vaccine posts untouched as it bans anti-vaxxer ads

Facebook will ban ads that discourage people from getting vaccines, but it will still let anti-vaxxers and supporters COVID conspiracy theories post their ideology for free on the service.

The social network announced its new rules for ads on Tuesday, expanding a previous policy against ads touting vaccine hoaxes. Enforcement of the new rule is expected to begin over the next few days. 

Facebook gave no reason why it changed its mind about anti-vaxx ads, which previously were allowed to run on the service. But recently, the company has cracked down on misinformation—despite CEO Mark Zuckerberg publicly praising free speech earlier this year.

In general, Facebook said its imposes “stricter” policies on ads than it does for what users post in their News Feeds. That’s because the company says it “proactively” choses which ads users see while users can better control what appears in their News Feed.

Additionally, Facebook explained that giving anti-vaxxers wide latitude to post on the service for free actually helps combat vaccine hoaxes. “If we removed all rumours and hoaxes, the content would still be available elsewhere on the internet, social media ecosystem, or even around the dinner table,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “By leaving this content up we can provide people with important information and context instead of creating an information vacuum.”

When it identifies vaccine misinformation, Facebook doesn’t remove the post. Instead, it curtails distribution of the post in News Feed, removes it from posts suggested to users based on their interests, and adds a label to the post with links to credible sources of information. It also reminds users that the content has been identified as false information if they try to share it. 

Facebook has struggled to curb the massive amount of misinformation its users post. In April, alone, the service labeled 50 million posts containing harmful misinformation related to COVID-19.

Some advocates say banning ads that discourage vaccines isn’t enough. “We hope to see a more effective means of identifying and halting the spread of organic misinformation,” Joe Smyser, CEO of the Public Good Projects, a nonprofit public health organization, said in a release. “Ads are important, but they’re not the most important in terms of how misinformation spreads.” 

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