Running ads on Facebook that discourage people from taking vaccines is no longer allowed, the social network announced on Tuesday. But if you want to run ads that denounce government policies on vaccines—including attempts to create a COVID-19 vaccine—then go ahead.
The distinction is a bit confusing. However, it marks Facebook’s latest attempt to balance fighting misinformation while maintaining free speech.
In March 2019, the company announced a crackdown on anti-vaccine content over concerns the controversial information was misleading the public. In addition, Facebook began banning ads that contained misinformation about vaccines. However, ads that flat out discouraged people from taking vaccines were permitted to circulate.
Facebook is now tightening the company’s policy against the anti-vaccine ads, citing how the COVID-19 pandemic “has highlighted the importance of preventive health behaviors.”
“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,” the company wrote in the announcement.
Nevertheless, the company doesn’t want to silence all discussion on the topic. As a result, “ads that advocate for or against legislation or government policies around vaccines—including a COVID-19 vaccine—are still allowed,” Facebook said. To run these ads, the buyers will need to verify their identities, and attach a “Paid for by” label with their names alongside the content.
A Facebook spokesperson elaborated to PCMag: “Our policy also does not prohibit discussion of possible or future COVID-19 vaccine development, trials testing, or approval processes. However, ads that assert that a pending or approved vaccine is unsafe or dangerous are not allowed.”
The new policy will likely be tested in the coming months as pharmaceutical companies make progress in developing COVID-19 vaccines. A key question will be the safety of the vaccines, which is bound to spark heated debate online and attract conspiracy theories.