Facebook’s content-policing arm is eyeing new territory beyond political misinformation. Apparently, fake news applies to misleading health products as well, according to a company announcement on Tuesday.
The social giant published a blog post explaining two recent updates targeting the promotion of products with overblown health claims. The company described them as part of its “ongoing efforts to improve the quality of information in News Feed.”
Beauty and wellness brands might not be the target of Facebook’s new battle against health misinformation, but it’s not clear if they may become collateral damage in this fight.
“We know that people don’t like posts that are sensational or spammy,” wrote Facebook product manager Travis Yeh, “and misleading health content is particularly bad for our community.”
Those updates were designed to reduce posts touting outlandish health benefits or sell products or services based on misleading claims. Yeh’s examples include medications, weight-loss pills and any item promoted as a “miracle cure.”
Efforts to minimize such snake-oil campaigns look like positive moves that support the public interest. It’s easy to see how popping the hype bubble around too-good-to-be-true products and stemming their spread would protect consumers. But the line between false claims and aspirational messaging — which is beauty’s specialty — can be hard to pin down for any platform. Now, companies will have to trust Facebook to assess this subjective territory and act as a wise arbiter of those nuances and distinctions.
Some may find Facebook’s track record in dealing with misinformation doesn’t exactly instill confidence.
How the tech company ranks and spreads information has been at the heart of ongoing probes into “big tech,” as well as the policies and algorithms that drive its platforms. Much of the attention has been fixed along social and political lines, but some reports have also pointed to bogus health promises as a growing concern on platforms like Facebook and YouTube.
Facebook needs a public relations win. And protecting people from shams like cure-alls — especially for cancer treatments and other serious medical situations — positions the company as a defender of truth on behalf of the public. That may be too much for some skeptics to swallow, but the company seems intent on trying to make it go down nonetheless.