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Facebook bans anti-vaccination ads, clamping down again

Facebook today said it would no longer allow anti-vaccination ads on its platform, in another reversal of its longtime stance of avoiding being the referee on thorny issues.

Facebook had previously shied away from stepping into debates over public health, even as anti-vaccination content on its site proliferated. But this year, it took a stand against false information related to the coronavirus to prevent public harm. It also has removed vaccine-related hoaxes that were identified by global health organizations.

In its updated policy today, Facebook went further. The company said it would no longer permit people or entities to purchase ads that actively discourage people from getting vaccinated, or that portray vaccines as unsafe, useless or use other harmful descriptions.

“Our goal is to help messages about the safety and efficacy of vaccines reach a broad group of people, while prohibiting ads with misinformation that could harm public health efforts,” Kang-Xing Jin, Facebook’s head of health initiatives, said in a company blog post. “We don’t want these ads on our platform.”

Facebook, which has been under pressure for allowing toxic and harmful misinformation to flow across its site, has lately banned an increasing amount of content. On Monday, the company said that it would no longer accept posts that denied the existence of the Holocaust. Last week, the company expanded a crackdown on the pro-Trump conspiracy movement QAnon and also said that it would suspend political advertising after the Nov. 3 election for an unspecified period of time.

The number of content and ad bans stands out because Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, has long said that he is a proponent of free speech and of allowing all types of content to be posted on the social network. Facebook did not address its position on free speech today.

Facebook has faced scrutiny for the amount of conspiracy theories and propaganda against vaccinations. Those who are against vaccines have been highly active on Facebook, operating in private Facebook groups and Instagram accounts. Today’s move will not remove user-generated content.

The company also will still allow ads that argue against creating government policies for vaccination, but the entities running those ads will need to be “authorized,” Facebook said. Those ads will include a “paid for” label along with the name of the organization.

Jin also said that Facebook will elevate posts from partners at the World Health Organization and UNICEF to increase immunization rates through public health messaging campaigns.

The social network positioned its policy change as part of the regular re-evaluations of content across the site.

“We regularly refine our approach around ads that are about social issues to capture debates and discussions around sensitive topics happening on Facebook,” Jin said in the blog post. “Vaccines are no different. While we may narrow enforcement in some areas, we may expand it in others.”

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