According to Facebook, Twitter
and Google, the ongoing pandemic has created a situation where the issue of false, misleading or sneaky advertising
has only intensified. To understand why, one needs to just run through the behavioural impact studies that have been done by several agencies as to how the virus has changed lives. The reports indicate that much of the information being sourced, or commercial transactions being conducted online, are all being done in a state of panic. This creates the perfect breeding ground for fake ads and fake news.
Most social media platforms say that they took the call, early on, to ban advertisements that took advantage of the situation. Google said it “blocked and removed tens of millions of coronavirus-related ads over the past few months for policy violations including price-gouging, capitalising on global medical supply shortages, making misleading claims about cures and promoting illegitimate unemployment benefits.”
Similarly, Facebook and Instagram
cracked down on certain kinds of ads on the platform in early March. "We are temporarily banning advertisements and commerce listings, like those on Marketplace, that sell medical face masks," said the company in a blog post (March 6). On March 20, the company's director of product management tweeted, “In addition to masks, we're now also banning hand sanitiser, surface disinfecting wipes and COVID-19 test kits in ads and commerce listings. This is another step to help protect against inflated prices and predatory behaviour we’re seeing.”
has a similar policy with a few more restrictions on the advertising
narrative employed on its platform. For instance, Twitter
has prohibited distasteful references to Covid-19 (or variations) and content likely to be sensational and incite panic. “Since introducing our updated policies on March 18, we’ve removed more than 2,400 tweets containing misleading and potentially harmful content. Our automated systems have challenged more than 3.4 million accounts targeting manipulative discussions around Covid-19. We will continue to use both technology and our teams to help us identify and stop spammy behaviour and accounts,” said Mahima Kaul, director, Public Policy, India and South Asia, Twitter.
The pandemic has added more fuel to the fake fires, so much so that even a smaller platform, such as the image sharing social media network Pinterest, has had to upgrade its filters. “A model trained using labels from Pinterest internally finds keywords or text associated with misinformation and blocks pins with that language while at the same time identifying visual representations associated with medical misinformation,” a Venture Beat report said.