By Sarah E. Needleman 

Facebook Inc. said it would ban ads that discourage immunization, part of a broader effort to combat misinformation about health vaccinations in the coronavirus pandemic.

The tech giant has previously faced criticism from health professionals and users that it failed to curb the spread of false claims about the safety and importance of vaccines on its platforms.

Last year, Facebook pledged to ban ads that include misinformation about vaccines and tweak its algorithms so pages that share such content would no longer be recommended.

But the company later acknowledged it had failed to remove paid ads from a prominent antivaccination group that suggested unethical doctors conspired to hide evidence of alleged harm to children from vaccines.

Facebook's new initiative includes cracking down on ads that explicitly discourage people from getting a vaccine, the company said in a blog post. It said it would begin preventing such ads from appearing on its flagship platform and Instagram over the next few days.

Ads that advocate for or against legislation or government policies around vaccines, including those developed for Covid-19, would still be allowed. Advertisers would still need to first get authorization to show such ads, and the ads would display a "paid for by" label so users could see who is behind them.

"We regularly refine our approach around ads that are about social issues to capture debates and discussions around sensitive topics happening on Facebook," the company said, adding that vaccines are no different. "While we may narrow enforcement in some areas, we may expand it in others."

Facebook, which reported 2.7 billion monthly users as of June 30, also said it would launch an information campaign on the flu vaccine, with a tool for finding the nearest location in the U.S. to get it, as well as work with global health groups such as the World Health Organization on efforts to increase immunization rates.

The spread of misinformation has been a problem for social-media companies in recent years as they grapple with how to police content. Most recently they have turned their attention to groups determined to undermine the U.S. presidential election and downplay the severity of the coronavirus crisis.

Last week, Facebook and Twitter both moved to place limits on posts by President Trump in which he claimed the coronavirus isn't as deadly as the common flu. But such moves and others have opened them up to complaints from users of censorship and political bias, with content-moderation processes deemed too opaque and arbitrary.

With its new focus on the flu vaccine, Facebook said it is looking to help put an end to the coronavirus pandemic. "While public health experts agree that we won't have an approved and widely available Covid-19 vaccine for some time, there are steps that people can take to stay healthy and safe," the company said. "That includes getting the seasonal flu vaccine."

The share of Americans who say they would get vaccinated for the coronavirus has declined sharply since earlier this year, according to a September survey from Pew Research Center. Some 51% of U.S. adults said they would definitely or probably get a vaccine to prevent the coronavirus if it were available today, while 49% said the opposite, the findings show. That represents a 21 percentage-point drop from May in intent to get a vaccination against the virus, Pew said.

Write to Sarah E. Needleman at sarah.needleman@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 13, 2020 15:18 ET (19:18 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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