Really Bad Medicine

Facebook Is Finally Fighting Its Pseudoscience “Miracle Cure” Content Problem

These "treatments" are ineffective at best — and deadly at worst.

7. 2. 19 / Kristin Houser
Tag Hartman-Simkins
Image by Tag Hartman-Simkins

There’s an entire spectrum of lies on social media. On one side, there’s the generally inane: Pokémon was designed for Satanists or FCC Chairman Ajit Pai tried to date a porn star.

And then there are lies that have the potential to literally kill.

Falling into this latter category are the spammy “miracle cures” for everything from cancer to autism that spread like wildfire on sites like Facebook. These “treatments” are ineffective at best and deadly at worst. Now, Facebook is finally trying to do something about them.

On Tuesday, Facebook published a blog post regarding the bogus health content that is now pervasive on the site.

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“People come together on Facebook to talk about, advocate for, and connect around things like nutrition, fitness, and health issues,” Facebook Product Manager Travis Yeh wrote in the post. “But in order to help people get accurate health information and the support they need, it’s imperative that we minimize health content that is sensational or misleading.”

To that end, the company updated its ranking algorithms to place two kinds of content lower in people’s News Feeds:

– Sensationalist health posts that make misleading claims or tout “miracle cures,” and

– Posts that use health-related claims to promote products or services, such as weight-loss pills.

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As far as sensationalist health posts go, ones hawking bogus weight-loss pills fall on the relatively benign end of the spectrum. But Facebook’s also rife with posts encouraging people to forgo proven cancer treatments in favor of worthless home remedies. Incredibly dangerous “autism cures” advising parents to force their children to drink chlorine dioxide, which is essentially industrial bleach, are also popular with Facebook’s users.

[Yeah, you read that correctly: Drinking bleach.]

And do we really need to mention the countless anti-vaccine posts and groups that are contributing to outbreaks of diseases like measles worldwide?

Given the far-reaching implications of this shady health content, Facebook is now under increasing pressure to do something about it — meaning if its newly announced ranking changes can’t effectively stem the medical misinformation tide, it’s going to need to find something else (or someone else) that can.

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READ MORE: Facebook, YouTube Overrun With Bogus Cancer-Treatment Claims [The Wall Street Journal]

More on Facebook: Congress Is Deciding Whether to Break up Facebook, Google


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