WASHINGTON, DC, March 19, 2020 – Facebook has shown it is unable to prevent advertisements hawking a variety of coronavirus products to include medical masks, test kits and even “vaccines,” and it is time that the U.S. Department of Justice steps in swiftly to hold bad actors, who take advantage of consumer fears and anxieties, accountable.
New research from the Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA) and the Coalition for a Safer Web (CSW) – “Facebook Enables Advertisers to Exploit Coronavirus Fears” -- shows that Facebook has been unable to fulfill a promise it made to consumers two weeks ago when a company executive said, “We’re banning ads and commerce listings selling medical face masks. We’re monitoring COVID19 closely and will make necessary updates to our policies if we see people trying to exploit this public health emergency.”
Since that promise, dozens of Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram posts, videos, and paid ads (which the company profits from) were uncovered in searches on the platforms. In recent days, advertisements for coronavirus test kits and even vaccines have begun to emerge.
One week ago, CSW researchers shared examples of medical mask ads with reporters at NBCNews.com. In subsequent reviews, researchers have found the exact same pages – even after being publicly outed and delivered to Facebook – are still up and circulating.
“Facebook is a communications lifeline for literally billions of people. Inevitably in times of crisis bad actors attempt to take advantage of societal fear. Facebook shouldn’t help them or profit from them,” said Tom Galvin, executive director of DCA. “It is time that Facebook fulfills its promises and removes all ads, posts, and photos making medical mask, vaccine and “cure” offers that prey on citizens’ fears about the coronavirus. Facebook and Instagram should be able to do this instantly.”
Researchers found sponsored advertisements for questionable coronavirus products running adjacent to user news feeds. These often juxtapose dubious ads running next to posts for legitimate businesses. One advertisement for “N95 Protective Masks” ran next to a post in the newsfeed from CityMD, an urgent care center in New York. The company advertising the masks, voxmask.com, actually created the website March 16, the same day the ad was first found.
Perhaps even more unsettling, researchers have begun to find some instances of advertisers offering coronavirus test kits and even “vaccines” and cures for sale. There is no cure that has been tested and proven to work by any governing health organization in the world.
DCA did attempt to buy some of the advertised products and will report on their authenticity once received.
The full report can be found at: https://bit.ly/2U2SXKb
The Digital Citizens Alliance is a nonprofit, 501(c)(6) organization that is a consumer- oriented coalition focused on educating the public and policymakers on the threats that consumers face on the Internet. Digital Citizens wants to create a dialogue on the importance for Internet stakeholders— individuals, government and industry—to make the Web a safer place. Based in Washington, DC, the Digital Citizens Alliance counts among its supporters: private citizens, the health, pharmaceutical and creative industries as well as online safety experts and other communities focused on Internet safety. Visit us at www.digitalcitizensalliance.org.
The Coalition for a Safer Web is a non-partisan, not-for-profit advocacy organization whose mission is, inter alia, to promote new public/private partnerships to facilitate the expeditious removal of extremist & terrorist incitement and instruction content from social media platforms. Visit us at coalitionsw.org. CSW uses technology from The Global Intellectual Property Enforcement Center (GIPEC). GIPEC Worldwide is a cyber intelligence company that uses patented tools to interrogate the deep web and social media. To learn more about GIPEC visit www.gipec.com.