Facebook has become more aggressive in enforcing its misinformation policy about the coronavirus in the past year. But the platform remains a popular destination for people discussing how to obtain and use ivermectin, a drug typically used to treat parasitic worms, even though the Food and Drug Administration has warned people not to take it to treat Covid-19.
Facebook has removed a handful of the groups devoted to these discussions. But according to recent research, there are still dozens left. In some of those groups, members discuss strategies to circumvent the rules of the social network.
Media Matters for America, a liberal watchdog group, found 60 public and private Facebook groups devoted to the discussion of ivermectin, totaling tens of thousands of members. After the organization flagged the groups on Facebook, 25 were closed. The remaining groups, which were reviewed by The New York Times, had nearly 70,000 members. Data from CrowdTangle, a social network analytics tool from Facebook, shows that the groups generate thousands of interactions every day.
Facebook said it has banned the sale of prescription products, including drugs and pharmaceuticals, on its platforms, including in advertisements. “We remove content that attempts to buy, sell or donate ivermectin,” Aaron Simpson, a Facebook spokesperson, said in an emailed statement. “We also enforce against any account or group that violates our Covid-19 and vaccine policies, including claims that ivermectin is a guaranteed cure or guaranteed prevention, and we do not allow ads promoting ivermectin as a treatment for Covid-19. ”
In some of the ivermectin groups, the admins — the people responsible for moderating posts and determining settings such as whether the group is private or public — provided instructions to bypass Facebook’s automated content moderation.
In a group called Healthcare Heroes for Personal Choice, an administrator instructed people to delete or misspell buzzwords and to avoid using the syringe emoji.
An administrator added, citing video services such as YouTube and BitChute, “If you want to post a video of your boob or bitch ut e or rumble, hide it in the comments.” Facebook rarely checks the comment section of posts for misinformation.
Facebook said it broadly looks at the actions of administrators when determining if a group is breaking the platform’s rules, it said, and if moderators break the rules, that counts as strikes against the entire group.
The groups also redirect members to alternative platforms where content moderation policies are more lax. In a Facebook group of more than 5,000 members called Ivermectin vs. Covid, one member shared a link to join a channel on Telegram, a messaging service, for further discussion of “the latest good news about this miraculous pill”.
“Ivermectin is clearly the answer to solve covid and the world is waking up to this truth,” the user wrote.
After The Times reached out to Facebook about the Ivermectin vs. Covid group, the social network removed it from the platform.