June 25, 2020: Updated to include information about non-medical face masks
April 21, 2020: Updated to include information about social issues, elections, and political ads covering COVID-19.
COVID-19 is changing people’s lifestyles. Many have been staying at home for days to avoid the spread of the virus. Companies have ordered their employees to work from home, even at a fast-paced advertisement agency. Hiring departments have forgone recruiting new talent. Businesses have lost customers.
Facebook’s evolving policies are also on the list of changes precipitated by the pandemic. To protect its users, the social media company has banned certain ads and posts from the platform. Here is the list.
Posts and Ads with False Claims about COVID-19
Facebook has struggled with misinformation over the past several years, beginning with the fake Russian ads targeting the US presidential election back in 2016. Facebook responded by adding more banned items to its list.
Now Facebook will remove content that spreads misinformation about COVID-19, including conspiracy theories and false claims about cures and preventative methods. One pervasive myth claimed that consuming alcohol reduced the risk of catching the virus. Some people have even been profiting from the pandemic by selling fake cures.
Facebook is working with third-party fact checkers to remove misinformation about COVID-19. Once fact checkers identify a post as false, Facebook will limit its distribution on the platform. Facebook will also notify users who shared the article that it has been labeled as false.
Ads and Listings for Face Masks
Facebook is temporarily banning listings and ads for medical face masks, whether those listings appear on a seller’s Timeline, in buy-and-sell groups, or in Marketplace. This change is likely a response to the price gouging that runs rampant within online platforms, including Amazon and Ebay.
Facebook, too, has to contend with price gouging, and its efforts against this unethical practice seems to be paying off. A search for “face masks” in Marketplace reaps zero results.
Because medical masks are in short supply, this precious resource must be reserved for medical professionals, the ill, and people caring for the sick. Price gouging and hoarding compromise the safety of the community, so it’s no surprise Facebook is imposing a ban on this product.
However, as of June 10, 2020, Facebook changed its policy to allow ads promoting non-medical face masks with restrictions. Facebook defines non-medical masks as the following:
Common examples of non-medical masks may, but do not necessarily, include masks that are non medical-grade, masks that have been handmade, custom made, are reusable or created out of household fabrics (e.g. cotton, cloth, denim, etc.) or refashioned non-conventional materials (ex. neoprene, wetsuits, board shorts, etc.), or developed for fashion purposes.”
Only advertisers who meet Facebook’s criteria are eligible to promote non-medical face masks. To qualify, the advertiser must
- Have a minimum advertising history of 4 months
- Have an account that has been disabled due to violations
- Not target users outside of his or her own country if advertising from Turkey, China, Cameroon, Indonesia, Israel Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Thailand, Ukraine, and Vietnam
Ads Exploiting COVID-19 for Financial Gain
With nations across the globe scrambling to decrease the spread of COVID-19, people are panicked. During times of great fear and uncertainty come those who seek financial opportunities.
Facebook is now banning ads that use COVID-19 as a way to increase financial gain; for example, ads that incite panic or urgency while presenting its products or services as a solution. The ads of retailers selling face masks, for instance, will not be approved if they guarantee the masks to prevent the spread of the virus or if they claim the masks to be the only one of its kind left.
Although Facebook did not state how it will monitor ads for exploitative practices, it will likely flag ads containing the words “COVID-19” or “coronavirus.”
Ads and Listings for Hand Sanitizers, Disinfecting Wipes, and Test Kits
Facebook is banning ads and commerce listings for hand sanitizers, disinfecting wipes, and COVID-19 test kits, whether those listings appear on Facebook groups, Timelines, or Marketplace. The ban is likely a direct result of price gouging. Items such as toilet paper, face masks, hand sanitizers, and disinfecting wipes are particularly attractive to people who price gouge.
Social Issues, Election, and Political Ads About COVID-19
Issues, election, and political ads about COVID-19 are only allowed on the platform if they contain a “paid for by” disclaimer. Facebook defines social issues ads as paid content that “seek to influence public opinion by including ad content that discuss, debate or advocate for or against a social issue.”
Public service announcement (PSA) ads do not require disclaimers; for example, an ad with the text “Be sure to wash your hands often with soap” or “Everyone can help prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
However, if a PSA ad contains one of the following elements, it will be required to include a disclaimer:
- The name, image, or title of a current, former, or elected politician
- Advocacy for a politician, political candidate or party, or change to law or policy
- Advocacy against regulations, decrees, or executive orders
- A call to action to an elected official or government
- Information about voting, voting times, or voting location
- Advocacy for social issues in a country where Facebook has the issues ad policy in place (United States included)
For example, ads with “California’s Governor tells residents to stay home” or “Due to Governor Elisabeth Rose’s announcement, our business is closed” will require disclaimers.
What Happens If You Were Mistakenly Reported?
Facebook relies on content reviewers and technology to keep its platform safe for users. However, with COVID-19 forcing workers to stay at home, Facebook ordered its reviewers to work remotely. With a reduced workforce and an increased reliance on automated systems, content and ad reviews will be slow — Facebook admits that mistakes will happen during the process.
If your content or ad was flagged for any of the aforementioned reasons — price gouging; misinformation; or the mention of face masks, hand sanitizers, or disinfecting wipes — your appeal for a second review will be denied due to a reduced workforce.
According to Facebook:
Normally when we remove content, we offer the person who posted it the option to request that we review the content again if they think we made a mistake. Now, given our reduced workforce, we’ll give people the option to tell us that they disagree with our decision and we’ll monitor that feedback to improve our accuracy, but we likely won’t review content a second time.”
To follow the changes Facebook is implementing due to COVID-19, visit Facebook Newsroom.
By Anne Felicitas