Facebook seeks to limit circulation of debunked medical claims

Facebook seeks to limit circulation of debunked medical claims

Facebook on Tuesday announced it is seeking to limit the circulation of debunked medical claims after multiple reports found that bogus cancer cures are rampant on the platform.

Last month, the company started down-ranking posts promoting "exaggerated or sensational health claims," meaning they now show up lower in the News Feed and Facebook won't surface them, according to a Tuesday blog post from the company.

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And it is taking the same action against posts promoting products or services purportedly based on medical claims, like pills to help someone lose weight, Facebook said.

"In order to help people get accurate health information and the support they need, it’s imperative that we minimize health content that is sensational or misleading," the blog post reads.

The tweaks come on the heels of two reports from The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal detailing how users can get sucked into rabbit holes of medical misinformation when they're seeking more information about cancer diagnoses.

The Post identified groups dedicated solely to sharing "natural" cures for cancer, which have been shown to be ineffective when pursued without modern medicine. Those groups, some of which had tens of thousands of members, were reportedly littered with members urging one another to try cures such as "cancer-fighting salad."

Facebook's update does not explicitly mention what it is doing about groups dedicating to promoting "exaggerated or sensational health claims." Most of the announcement focuses on down-ranking posts in the News Feed and predicts some pages will be affected.

The Journal's investigation found multiple figures without medical licenses selling bunk cancer "treatments" such as baking soda injections and juice regimens.

Facebook and other top social media websites have been working to crack down on the issue of medical misinformation, an effort that has picked up steam as the U.S. faces the worst measles outbreak it has seen in over a decade.

Measles was declared to be eradicated from the U.S. around 2000, but there has been an enormous spike in measles cases this year, an outbreak that has been attributed, in part, to popular anti-vaccine medical misinformation circulating online.

Facebook and YouTube, in particular, have been working to clamp down on the issue, working with top health organizations and experts to identify medical misinformation and take steps accordingly.

But critics have said Facebook, and its image-sharing platform Instagram, are hotbeds for people promoting medical conspiracy theories. And Instagram, in particular, continues to surface popular hashtags and accounts that promote anti-vaccine theories that have been identified as false by medical experts.

At a hearing last week, lawmakers dug into a Facebook representative over the continual presence of anti-vaccine content, saying it amounts to a public health hazard and the company is not taking action quickly enough.

"We’ll continue working to minimize low-quality health content on Facebook," Facebook said in the post on Tuesday.