Facebook’s effort to censor political advertisements has resulted in the important information regarding COVID-19 vaccines to be blocked from the social media platform.
According to Politico, Facebook’s policies have resulted in banning ads from cities, health care providers, and community and faith-based groups that are promoting COVID-19 shots.
“Paid-for messages from at least 110 groups aimed at raising awareness of how the vaccines work or where to get inoculated were flagged and sent to Facebook’s register of political messages,” the Politico report said.
The ad’s sponsors can appeal Facebook’s ban, but many refrain from doing so as the process can be too much of a burden, especially when trying to deal with constant new information regarding vaccine distribution and new strains of coronavirus.
Mary Hastings, the executive administrator of Orland Township, Illinois, says they had two ads blocked this month. The restrictions “made it very difficult for the township in our efforts to inform our residents about important information regarding Covid-19 registration and updates,” she said. “This is very unfair.”
Another Politico report found that these issues were not only happening in the United States. Facebook allegedly mislabeled ads from European Union institutions, as well as European governments. Facebook labeled the ads as political messages, but the posts were actually in relation to “public awareness campaigns around the pandemic and the fallout from Brexit.” These “were lumped with far-right partisan groups, mainstream political parties and other political campaigners.”
Facebook admitted that the company has accidentally misidentified some ads and said that it was restoring two to the ad rotation. The two reinstated ads are from the Centers for Disease Control and the Forsyth County, N.C. department of public health.
“While we have temporarily paused ads about social issues, elections or politics, we continue to allow ads about Covid-19 that promote vaccine efficacy, and have made our guidance to advertisers on how to run them publicly available,” Facebook said in a statement.
“Ads from public officials are banned outright, while some others from advocacy groups are allowed but require ‘paid for’ disclaimers. But in casting its net, the site has snagged routine notices about the availability and effectiveness of vaccines and about the course of the pandemic,” the Politico report said.
Even though Facebook claims it is attempting to share important vaccine information, its strict guidelines are undermining institutions’ efforts to promote such information.
According to Politico, “A group of CDC ads for flu shots was flagged for noting certain people may be susceptible to serious flu-related complications. Facebook later acknowledged its decision was incorrect.”
RonNell Andersen Jones, a law professor at the University of Utah, said, “The choices they make about speech … unquestionably have a massive impact on what it is we’re all talking about and what we’re seeing and passing on to others…While the company has said it’s trying to promote authoritative public health messaging — and also generally upholding free speech — the long list of banned ads raise the question of how effective they are in realizing that goal.”