You know what combats COVID-19? Masks, social distancing, and vaccines. You know what doesn’t? Conspiracy theories, misinformation, and drugs intended for animals. But if you get your news from Facebook, you might not know that, because as usual, the social network is letting falsehoods proliferate and profiting from it.
Vice found in a new investigation that advertisements are being served to Facebook users that promote Ivermectin as a cure for COVID-19. Ivermectin is an anti-parasitic drug commonly used in veterinary medicine, and for some reason, fringe physicians and anti-vax skeptics have begun promoting the drug as a treatment for COVID-19.
There’s no evidence to support Ivermectin’s use for combatting COVID-19, and it may actually be dangerous to consume the drug. Mississippi’s public health department reported last Friday that 70 percent of recent calls to its poison control center “have been related to ingestion of livestock or animal formulations of Ivermectin purchased at livestock supply centers.”
Opportunists gonna opportune — Vice was able to find advertisements promoting ivermectin through Facebook’s ad library, which archives all advertisements posted on the platform.
One of the advertisements that began running on August 21 came from a New Orleans-based pharmacy chain, which wrote, “For those that are looking for ivermectin, all … locations are fully stocked.” Clearly, some enterprising businesses see the Ivermectin hype as an opportunity to cash in, even if they don’t know its efficacy.
Certain words for bogus COVID-19 treatments are blocked, but the term “ivermectin” seemingly is not, which highlights the struggle Facebook faces as it combats fast-moving misinformation trends.
Some of the other advertisements promoting Ivermectin have come from the likes of wellness influencers and even GOP organizations.
Doubting science to own the libs — That people would rather take a drug from animals, than the vaccine developed specifically to combat COVID-19 in humans, is absurd. But that’s what happens when polarizing politics replaces common sense and pundits can spout conspiracy theories with impunity. Vaccines aren’t new, they’re not a liberal ploy to inject people with trackers, and they’re not a grand conspiracy on the part of big pharma. Vaccines are demonstrably saving live and stifling the ability of a once-in-a-century-scale pandemic to spread.
Facebook hasn’t responded to Vice’s request for comment on why the ads are being served in the first place. The social network has tried to crack down on medical misinformation in recent years, and it currently removes false posts about COVID-19 and labels others with a link to its information center where users can read information from vetted sources. But as usual, that’s not enough to stop agitators from harnessing it to spread lies.
We’ll likely see Facebook add Ivermectin to its list of banned COVID-19 terms as it already bans advertisements that discourage people from getting vaccinated. But how much damage has it wrought in the interim?
A big risk for Facebook is that the spread of harmful misinformation will further embolden legislators to take action against it. Facebook’s already being sued by the FTC for using its might to suppress competitors. If it turns out to have been responsible, albeit indirectly, for deaths, it could face class-action suits, too.