On Friday, Facebook announced that it would further attempt to limit coronavirus-related chaos on its platform by banning commerce listings and advertisements for medical face masks.
"We’re monitoring COVID19 closely and will make necessary updates to our policies if we see people trying to exploit this public health emergency," Facebook Director of Product Management Rob Leathern said in an update on Twitter. "We’ll start rolling out this change in the days ahead."
Update: We’re banning ads and commerce listings selling medical face masks. We’re monitoring COVID19 closely and will make necessary updates to our policies if we see people trying to exploit this public health emergency. We’ll start rolling out this change in the days ahead.
— Rob Leathern (@robleathern) March 7, 2020
“We are temporarily banning advertisements and commerce listings that sell medical face masks," a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch. "Our teams are monitoring the COVID19 situation closely and will make necessary updates to our policies if we see people trying to exploit this public health emergency."
Facebook will also limit any ads for medical products that imply a limited supply or create a sense of urgency among potential buyers, as well as ads that make guarantees for COVID-19 "cures" or prevention. Along with those changes, in the next few days Facebook will begin blocking coronavirus-themed groups and pages from its algorithmic recommendations.
As fears of a novel coronavirus epidemic swell worldwide, online platforms have scrambled to stop price gouging and health misinformation. Amazon is working to eradicate "high priced offers" on products like hand sanitizer and face masks from its marketplace, while Ebay has banned all listings for N95 and N100 face masks, hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes. The online auction site will also reject any listings exploiting terms like "COVID-19" and "coronavirus."
On Wednesday, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) wrote an open letter to Amazon's Jeff Bezos expressing concern over "continued reports of price gouging and a lack of transparency" on the site.
"No one should be allowed to reap a windfall from fear and human suffering," Markey wrote, adding that online retailers have a "particular responsibility" to protect consumers in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.
Earlier this week, Facebook announced that coronavirus-related searches on its platform would be greeted with an automatic pop-up featuring information from the World Health Organization and local health authorities.
"Given the developing situation, we’re working with national ministries of health and organizations like the WHO, CDC and UNICEF to help them get out timely, accurate information on the coronavirus," Mark Zuckerberg wrote in an update on his company's efforts. "We’re giving the WHO as many free ads as they need for their coronavirus response along with other in-kind support."
The company is also focused on curtailing potentially life-threatening coronavirus misinformation, removing ads, conspiracy theories and treatment claims with no scientific basis. Facebook's decision to disable ads for face masks comes at a time when health authorities are urging well people to forgo buying the masks, both because they are not necessary for healthy individuals to wear and because demand for the masks is constricting their supply for the medical workers who need them most.