Facebook was until last week allowing advertisers to target users that it had identified as interested in “pseudoscience”, jarring with the company's actions to curb the spread of COVID-19 misinformation across its platforms.
The social-media network removed the category from its ad portal last week following a Markup investigation, which found that the interest category reportedly contained more than 78 million users and was actively available during COVID-19.
Permitting advertisers to target users that may be interested in “pseudoscience”, while publicly announcing several efforts to prevent COVID-19 misinformation or conspiracy theories from running on its platform, appears hypocritical. It has been removing content with "false claims or conspiracy theories" relating to COVID-19 since January. Although a separate investigation by US nonprofit Consumer Reports earlier this month found that ads containing deliberate and dangerous misinformation relating to COVID-19 are slipping through Facebook's ad review system.
A Facebook spokesperson told Campaign Asia-Pacific: “We've removed this targeting option to prevent potential abuse in ads.”
The spokesperson added that the pseudoscience interest category "should have been removed in a previous review" and that the company will "continue to review our interest categories". It has paused the availability of some of its other interest categories whilst it evaluates their potential for misuse.