On Tuesday, Facebook announced a new policy banning ads that discourage the use of vaccines. Timed to the beginning of flu season, the new policy is also aimed at the ongoing proliferation of anti-vaccine groups on Facebook and growing skepticism about forthcoming vaccines for COVID-19.
“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 in a blog post. “We don’t want these ads on our platform.”
There are still several ads from anti-vaccination groups currently running on the platform, but Facebook says it will begin enforcing the new policy “over the next few days.” The anti-vaccination groups themselves will continue to be allowed on the platform — organic or unpaid content discouraging vaccination is still permitted, per Facebook’s platform rules.
Alongside the new ads policy, Facebook will actively promote vaccination through a public information campaign, and direct users to vaccination sites using its preventative health tool.
It’s part of a string of recent crackdowns from Facebook. On Monday, the platform banned Holocaust denial content after years of mounting criticism. The previous week, the platform strengthened its ban against QAnon-linked content, and announced plans for a complete blackout on US political ads in the days following the election.
The move also comes at a delicate time for the ongoing pandemic. Public trust in a COVID-19 vaccine has fallen to alarmingly low levels, perhaps driven by President Trump’s frequent references to an imminent vaccine to be released before Election Day. In May, roughly 70 percent of Americans said they would take a vaccine if it became available; by September, that number had dropped to 50 percent.