Facebook Reportedly Bans Ads Raising Vaccine Awareness for Being 'Political Messages'

© REUTERS / Dado RuvicA 3D-printed Facebook logo is seen placed on a keyboard in this illustration taken March 25, 2020.
A 3D-printed Facebook logo is seen placed on a keyboard in this illustration taken March 25, 2020.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 22.02.2021
As part of what it calls its fight against disinformation and encouraging accountability, Facebook placed limits on political advertisements during last year's election. Since ads from elected officials are outright prohibited, it reportedly blocks routine notices from the authorities about the availability and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.

Facebook's ad policy has restricted posts from cities, health care authorities and pro-vaccine activists that promote mass vaccination in the US, Politico reported Sunday.

The article, analyzing banned advertising from last September, reveals that "paid for" messages from at least 110 organizations aimed at increasing awareness about vaccines or where to get inoculated have been flagged and submitted to Facebook's political message registry.

According to the report, advertising sponsors have the option of appealing, but the procedure can be too time-consuming when dealing with the lack of delivery of vaccinations and responding to new, more infectious strains of the virus.

In light of that, public health experts have expressed doubt as to whether Facebook can be a viable information source during the pandemic while being pressured by anti-vaccination forces that appear to be prevalent on the platform.

"[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,"  the executive administrator of Orland Township, Illinois, Mary Hastings, said. “This is very unfair.”

California Medical Association spokesman Anthony York stated that an ad from the organization promoting this month's event including White House vaccination coordinator Bechara Choucair also faced a ban by Facebook's ad filters. 

“It’s hard to know what will go through,” York is quoted in the report as saying. He added that the group figures the public official's name could have been the cause of the ban.

Facebook also mislabels messages posted by EU institutions and governments as political ones, although a lot of them are related to the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit.

Earlier, Facebook admitted that some advertisements were misidentified and said that two ads were restored to the rotation, from the Centers for Disease Control and the Forsyth County, NC, Public Health Department.

“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,” the company said in a statement.

Demonstrators protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, February 21, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer - Sputnik International, 1920, 21.02.2021
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Amid mass vaccination efforts, the public pressure on Facebook and other social networking platforms to curb misinformation has increased. In its turn, Facebook claims it is taking steps to encourage authoritative information on vaccines, such as by offering free advertising credits to certain public health organizations.

RonNell Andersen Jones, a law professor at the University of Utah, believes that the constantly emerging claims about the transparency of the algorithms of the world's largest social network, given the regular statements by its top officials about their commitment to the principles of information accuracy and freedom of speech, may raise concerns about their implementation.

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