Facebook removes more than 2,000 ads exploiting health fears and selling dubious Covid-19 cures in first half of 2020 as regulators tighten grip
Facebook allowed thousands of illegal advertisements and promotional messages to be published in the UK earlier this year until it was alerted by the national regulator, the company confirmed.
The figure represents a sharp rise in takedowns of illegal advertising on the platform, according to Facebook’s own data.
The company deleted more than 2,000 UK advertisements and promotional posts between January and June after the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said they breached its regulations.
The ads exploited “public health fears or anxieties” and promoted dubious Covid-19 cures such as vitamin shots or intravenous drips, the ASA said.
Posts promoting Botox were also removed under UK regulations banning ads for prescription-only medicine.
Another nearly 1,500 posts, accounts and ads were removed because of the “promotion and sale of regulated goods and services”, 30 due to the misuse of private information and 20 for “a range of offences including gambling, violation of privacy, and violating local laws on hate speech”, Facebook said.
The company removed a total of 3,600 Facebook posts, pages and Instagram accounts in the UK due to illegal content in the first half of the year, according to its latest transparency report.
The figure is a more than tenfold rise in the number of removals in previous six-month periods since Facebook began publishing such data at the beginning of 2014, which the ASA said was due to increased efforts on its part.
The regulator told the Financial Times it has moved away from relying on complaints to spotting problem ads using third-party tools from Brandwatch.
Nevertheless, the figures add to concerns over Facebook’s willingness and ability to police its own content.
The figures follow reports of a glitch in one of Facebook’s key ad measurement programs that reportedly led it to offer some advertiser customers millions of dollars in credits.
The problem in Facebook’s “conversion lift” tool was initially reported two weeks ago, but Facebook said the issue had gone undetected for almost a year.
Advertisers use the tool to measure the effectiveness of campaigns in driving concrete goals such as sales, and the problem led advertisers to believe Facebook was performing better than it was, leading them in some cases to overspend on the platform.
Facebook acknowledged it is offering compensation coupons to advertisers affected by the glitch, but declined to offer further details.
However, Ad Age reported ad executives as saying the compensation ranges from thousands of dollars into the millions.
“While making improvements to our measurement products, we found a technical issue that impacted some conversion lift tests,” Facebook said in a statement.
“We’ve fixed this and are working with advertisers that have impacted studies.”
The European Commission is set to propose regulations next month that would force large tech platforms to allow regulatory scrutiny of the algorithms they use to run their businesses.
The draft Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act are set to be formally submitted on 2 December.