(Reuters) – Facebook Inc removed “Pseudosciences” as an option for advertisers who want to target audiences. This category is available until this week, even when the world’s largest social media network promised to contain misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic.
FILE PHOTO: The Facebook logo is reflected in the glasses in this image illustration from April 1, 2019. REUTERS / Akhtar Soomro / Illustration
The company has also stopped the availability of some other interest categories while evaluating its list. This was confirmed by a Facebook spokeswoman in an email after Reuters found that the conspiracy theory was no longer an option for ad targeting.
The company removed the pseudoscience category from its Detailed Targeting list on Wednesday, the spokeswoman said over the phone after the tech news site The Markup showed it could advertise a post aimed at people who are in favor of Interest in pseudosciences.
The markup showed that Facebook allowed such ads after it announced it would monitor COVID-19 misinformation on its platform. More than 78 million Facebook users were interested in “pseudosciences” and cited the Facebook advertising portal.
Misinformation about the pandemic caused by the novel corona virus, from mock healings to far-reaching conspiracy theories, has also spread to competing social media platforms like Twitter Inc and YouTube, Google’s video service from Alphabet Inc.
The advocacy group Avaaz reported last week that a sample of 104 coronavirus-related misinformation content on Facebook that the group analyzed had reached over 117 million estimated views.
The data collected by ProPublica in 2016 shows that Facebook had “pseudosciences” assigned to users at this point, indicating that the category has been available for several years.
The Facebook spokeswoman said in her email that the pseudosciences category should have been removed in a previous review.
“We will continue to review our interest categories,” she said.
Facebook has announced several initiatives to combat the spread of false COVID-19 claims, including removing content that could cause “imminent physical harm” and warning people who dealt with such misinformation with a link to the World Health Organization website.
The company has also banned exploitative tactics in ads and displays for medical face masks, hand sanitizers, disinfectant wipes, and COVID-19 test kits.
However, a April Consumer Reports test found that Facebook approved ads with coronavirus misinformation, including false claims that the virus was kidding or that small daily doses of bleach could keep people healthy.
Facebook reaches 2.5 billion users per month on its core platform or 2.9 billion including its apps like Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger.
Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford; Edited by Richard Chang and Leslie Adler