wordpress blog stats
Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Facebook ad review system unable to spot COVID-19 misinformation: Report

In a test conducted by American not-for-profit consumer rights organisation Consumer Reports, Facebook approved ads that deliberately spread misinformation about COVID-19, including one that said “Coronavirus is a HOAX”. These ads were never published by the organisation, but demonstrated the failure of Facebook’s automated ad screening process.

Consumer Reports created a fake name and page for a made-up organisation, “Self Preservation Society”. The series of seven paid ads ranged from the subtle (“safe” for people under 30 to go to work, school, parties, but did not mention the coronavirus by name) to outrageous (“Coronavirus is a HOAX” and that people should “stay healthy with SMALL daily doses” of bleach).

Facebook approved all of them except one, and the ads “remained scheduled for publication for more than a week without being flagged by Facebook”. The only ad that Facebook rejected was flagged because of the image which showed a respirator-style face mask. Consumer Reports itself pulled the ads from queue, and it is only after the organisation contacted Facebook that the platform disabled the account.

Why does this raise red flags?

Unlike posts created by individual users, that are published immediately and fact-checked only under special circumstances post publication, ads are reviewed before publication. Apart from being subjected to Facebook’s advertising policies and community standards, any ads that sell medical face masks, hand sanitisers, disinfecting wipes and COVID-19 test kids have been banned by Facebook. All ads that use “exploitative tactics” that create “panic” about the virus or claim to cure it have also been banned.

Moreover, the account that was created was just a week old with a rendering of the coronavirus as its profile image. That should have set off the automated screening process, Consumer Reports said.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

How does Facebook screen ads?

The primary ad-screening process is automated at Facebook, as per Consumer Reports. Human moderators mainly tag content which is then used to train algorithms. In few cases, human moderators look at specific ads to decide whether or not they follow the rules. Facebook did not tell Consumer Reports “which ads get reviewed by people”. While outrageous ads created by Consumer Reports, if published, would have eventually been found by Facebook and removed, people would have still seen them, and their reach/spread would have been incalculable. We have reached out to Facebook for more information about the ad-screening process.

Content moderation too is suffering

In March 2020, a day after Facebook announced that it would send home all its contract workers who moderate content and will rely on automated content removals, people around the world, including in India, reported that Facebook was marking legitimate news articles, including those about COVID-19, as spam. The company claimed that this was a case of correlation, not causation, that was caused by a bug in the spam-filtering system. Mark Zuckerberg later said that spam filtering is a completely different process from content moderation.

Read more: Reliance on automated content takedowns needs to be reconsidered: MediaNama’s take

Written By

Send me tips at aditi@medianama.com. Email for Signal/WhatsApp.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.



India and US come to terms on how to deal with the equalisation levy in light of the impending Global Tax Deal.


Find out how people’s health data is understood to have value and who can benefit from that value.


The US and other countries' retreat from a laissez-faire approach to regulating markets presents India with a rare opportunity.


When news that Walmart would soon accept cryptocurrency turned out to be fake, it also became a teachable moment.


The DSCI's guidelines are patient-centric and act as a data privacy roadmap for healthcare service providers.

You May Also Like


Google has released a Google Travel Trends Report which states that branded budget hotel search queries grew 179% year over year (YOY) in India, in...


135 job openings in over 60 companies are listed at our free Digital and Mobile Job Board: If you’re looking for a job, or...


Rajesh Kumar* doesn’t have many enemies in life. But, Uber, for which he drives a cab everyday, is starting to look like one, he...


By Aroon Deep and Aditya Chunduru You’re reading it here first: Twitter has complied with government requests to censor 52 tweets that mostly criticised...

MediaNama is the premier source of information and analysis on Technology Policy in India. More about MediaNama, and contact information, here.

© 2008-2021 Mixed Bag Media Pvt. Ltd. Developed By PixelVJ

Subscribe to our daily newsletter
Your email address:*
Please enter all required fields Click to hide
Correct invalid entries Click to hide

© 2008-2021 Mixed Bag Media Pvt. Ltd. Developed By PixelVJ