Facebook promised to ban anti-vaxx ads. One day later it’s still broadcasting them.

Posted on October 14, 2021 in News.

Facebook is still broadcasting anti-vaxx adverts worth thousands of dollars, less than a day after it announced it would ban them.

Yesterday Facebook admitted it was morally wrong to profit from adverts spreading dangerous anti-vaccination messages. The tech giant promised it was “rejecting ads globally that discourage people from getting a vaccine” adding “we don’t want these ads on our platform.”

But we can reveal that this ban is not only inadequate – it is not working at all.

An examination of Facebook’s own Ads Library shows that three anti-vaccination adverts with a value of more than $10,000 are still live on the platform. The adverts claim that flu shots are ineffective in reducing hospital admissions, and that the aluminum use in some vaccines is unsafe.

The adverts were posted by Physicians for Informed Consent, an organisation that claims it is “ethically opposed to the coercion of vaccination” but is part of a coalition containing dozens of anti-vaccination campaigns and has hosted Robert F. Kennedy Jr. at its events, one of the most influential online anti-vaxxers identified in our report, The Anti-Vaxx Industry.

Other examples show that this is a more widespread problem. The Texans For Vaccine Choice page was running an advert headlined “STOP Texas Mandated Vaccines!” on the same day that Facebook announced its ban.

The Organic Consumers Association, which our report exposed as an influential broadcaster of anti-vaccination messages, also has a live advert spreading the claim that Covid-19 is an escaped bioweapon. Facebook’s policies forbid adverts containing “false or misleading claims”.

Facebook is also receiving significant ad revenues from anti-vaxx entrepreneurs, an influential class of online anti-vaxxers identified in our report, The Anti-Vaxx Industry, as using misinformation about Covid and vaccines to sell alternative health products.

On the same day Facebook announced its ban, the anti-vaxx entrepreneur David Wolfe shared a misleading anti-vaccination post with his 386,000 Instagram followers that featured a quote falsely attributed to Joe Biden. Wolfe is currently running dozens of Facebook adverts, many of which advertise his own brand of colloidal silver, a product that the National Institute of Health in the US has stated “isn’t safe or effective for treating any disease or condition.” Facebook does not reveal the value of the adverts.

Similarly, Facebook is hosting dozens more adverts from Global Healing, a nutritional supplements business operated by the anti-vaxxer Edward Group who had branded vaccines a “hidden poison”. Group is a regular contributor to the InfoWars conspiracy channel and produces a range of supplements sold by its proprietor Alex Jones.

This highlight the real problem with Facebook’s announcement of an ad ban: it does nothing to address the much larger problem of organic anti-vaccination content on its platforms. At the time our report was published in June, anti-vaccination accounts on Facebook and Instagram 38 million followers. Two months later they stood at 40 million.

This is a problem that cannot be solved with another press release. To solve it, Facebook will have to enforce its existing rules on harmful misinformation, and remove anti-vaxxers from its platforms.