Facebook has announced that the company is implementing a new global policy banning paid advertisements on its platform that it has determined discourage people from getting vaccinated.1 According to a blog authored by Kang-Xing Jin, Head of Health and Rob Leathern, Director of Product Management at Facebook:
Today, we’re launching a new global policy that prohibits ads discouraging people from getting vaccinated. We don’t want these ads on our platform. 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.2
Censorship Policies Already Existed on Facebook
Facebook already has a previously existing policy that prohibits advertisements that are categorized as vaccine “hoaxes” (such as ads that state vaccines cause autism) identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) and government agencies like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).3
In addition, the company has previously implemented other measures to stop what it believes is the spread of vaccine and coronavirus-related “misinformation” on its platform. Last year, Facebook began censoring groups and webpages that post information about vaccine risks and failures from the search function of its site.4
Aleksandra Kuzmanovic, social media manager at the WHO made a statement on Facebook’s new policy: “Access to reliable information is important to ensure uptake of safe and effective vaccines. We welcome Facebook’s update of its vaccine ad policies to prohibit ads that discourage people from getting vaccinated.”5
What Type of Content on Vaccines Does Facebook Allow?
The company stated that advertisements that “advocate for or against legislation or government policies around vaccines,” including COVID-19 vaccine-related legislation and policy, will be allowed. However, these advertisements will still have to be approved by the company as political advertisements and include a “paid for by” label on who is funding them.6
Facebook said that the new policy only applies to paid advertisements discouraging people from getting vaccinated. Unpaid posts by people or groups that provide information on the risks of vaccines and discourage vaccinations will still be allowed.7
Facebook Partners With WHO to Promote Vaccines and Track Public Opinion
Facebook has stated that they will be partnering with global health organizations to promote vaccine education campaigns. The company is working in collaborate with the WHO and UNICEF on public health messaging to increase vaccination rates worldwide. In their blog post, Facebook’s Jin and Leathern said, “We’re working with WHO’s Vaccine Safety Network to train and support their network of vaccine partners to utilize Facebook to reach as many people as possible with public health messaging.”8
According to the blog, Insights for Impact, which is part of the Facebook Data for Good Program, in collaboration with CrowdTangle, will expand its partnership with UNICEF and other nonprofits to share aggregated insights from public posts to understand how people are talking about vaccines. Facebook will analyze this public conversation across genders, age brackets and regions and use this aggregated information from public posts to build public trust in vaccines.9
Freedom of Speech on Facebook?
Facebook’s censorship of vaccine related information comes as a surprise to some because Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has long said that he is a proponent of free speech and of allowing all types of content to be posted on the social network.10
In October 2019, Zuckerberg spoke at Georgetown University about the importance of protecting free expression. He underscored his belief that giving everyone a voice empowers the powerless and pushes society to be better over time. He also warned that our society is increasingly seeing laws and regulations around the world that undermine free expression and human rights.11
Facebook has not addressed its position on free speech after the implementation of its ban on advertisements that criticize vaccine science and policy and the ethics of mandatory vaccination, or question the accuracy of information about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 disease and public health policies implemented during to the coronavirus pandemic.12
1 Graham M, Rodriguez S. Facebook says it will finally ban anti-vaccination ads. CNBC Oct. 13, 2020.
2 Jin KX, Leathern R. Supporting Public Health Experts’ Vaccine Efforts. Facebook Oct. 13, 2020.
4 Ortutay B. Facebook bans anti-vaccination ads but not antivax posts. ABC News Oct. 13, 2020.
5 See Footnote 2.
6 See Footnote 4.
8 See Footnote 2.
10 Issac M. Facebook Bans Anti-Vaccination Ads, Clamping Down Again. The New York Times Oct. 13, 2020.
11 Mark Zuckerberg Stands for Voice and Free Expression. Facebook Oct. 17, 2019..
12 See Footnote 10.