Even as Mark Zuckerberg touted the “hundreds of thousands of pieces of misinformation related to COVID-19” that the site had pulled in recent months, Facebook continued to offer targeted ads classified as “pseudoscience.” It was an odd choice from a social network so publicly declaring its own campaigns to remove junk science amid a global pandemic.
Using Ad Manager, advertisers were able to serve ads to some 78 million people “who have expressed an interest in pseudoscience.” Following an investigation by The Markup that found the site buying ads to target that category, Facebook says it’s done with the pseudoscience tag.
In a statement to TechCrunch, the company reconfirmed the move. “This interest category of advertising should have been removed in a previous review and we’ve removed it,” Director of Product Management Rob Leathern said. There was never a great time to run junk science ads, of course, but the issue has come to a head in recent weeks and months, as COVID-19 has become a massive hotbed for conspiracy and dangerous cures.
As Zuckerberg noted in his piece last week, popular theories flagged by the company include the notions that “drinking bleach cures the virus or that physical distancing is ineffective at preventing the disease from spreading.” It’s unclear (beyond the obvious answer of ad revenue) why Facebook continued to offer the category until it was essentially called out on the matter.
Other ad networks and social media sites have been taking pains to slow the spread of misinformation. Twitter recently added 5G-related conspiracies to its list of COVID-19 related guidance, while Google just announced that it would be extending its ID verification for its ad systems.