Facebook to ban ads that discourage vaccines

Social media giant says advertisements advocating for or against legislation or government policies around vaccines, including for COVID-19, will still be allowed.

There are currently no approved vaccines for COVID-19 [File: Dado Ruvic/Reuters]

Facebook will start banning advertisements that discourage people from getting vaccinated, the social media company said, as it also announced a new flu vaccine information campaign.

The United States-based company said in a blog post on Tuesday that ads advocating for or against legislation or government policies around vaccines, including a COVID-19 vaccine, would still be allowed.

Facebook said it would begin to enforce the new policy in the next few days.

“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,” the company said.

“We already don’t allow ads with vaccine hoaxes that have been publicly identified by leading global health organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” it added.

Facebook, which has been under pressure from politicians and public health groups to crack down on anti-vaccine content and misinformation on its platform, said that although a COVID-19 vaccine would not be available for some time, the pandemic had highlighted the importance of preventive health behaviours.

Facebook’s rules prohibit ads with vaccine misinformation, but ads expressing opposition to vaccines had been allowed if they did not contain false claims.

Earlier this year, Facebook Public Policy Manager Jason Hirsch told Reuters news agency the company believed users should be able to express such personal views and that more aggressive censorship could push people hesitant about vaccines towards the anti-vaccine camp.

Since the start of the pandemic, a barrage of misinformation, conspiracy theories, rumours and myths have circulated around the novel coronavirus.

Sylvie Briand, director of the Department of Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness at the WHO, told Al Jazeera the myths around treatments, drugs and vaccines are “sometimes fuelled by commercial interests”.

Meanwhile, misinformation about intervention methods – like contact tracing and mask-wearing – creates confusion and sometimes results in “mistrust against institutions, governments, expertise and science”, she said.

The WHO encourages people to check the source before information is shared, use trusted, science-based information resources such as, national public health agencies, and to report if you know or believe something is false.

There are currently no specific licensed treatments nor a vaccine for COVID-19, but several drugs and more than 200 vaccine candidates are being studied in large clinical trials.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies