Recent efforts by Facebook to reduce advertising from exploitive companies have been somewhat successful; however, according to a prospective published in The Lancet Oncology, advertisers propagating unproven medical treatments persisted on the platform.

To assess what advertisements targeted people seeking support and information on alternative therapeutics on Facebook, the investigators enrolled in 25 cancer-related groups associated with holistic medicine.

They found that some groups were focused on community support with few advertisements or pleas for donations.


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The majority of groups, however, were at least in part dedicated to the advertising of dubious products.

These direct marketing groups often had site administrators who commented on every post promoting their products. Another common tactic was to post links to outside websites selling coaching services or products, links to holistic care centers, or people seeking donations. For example, in 1 group, 46 such links were posted over the course of 15 days.

Vaccine-related groups often posted videos that spread scientific disinformation and politically motivated conspiracy theories in addition to promoting dangerous or discredited remedies for cancer, and often requested donations.

Beyond advertising, the investigators observed several privacy violations including the public release of photographs, test results with physician/clinic information, and medical records divulging patient pathology details/personal information.

The investigators concluded that Facebook appears to be allowing the persistence of company-led groups despite a clear conflict of interest. Although Facebook has reduced the volume of direct advertisements from companies selling harmful products, product promotion has continued through the ‘groups’ section of the site.

Reference

Sissung TM, Figg WD. Facebook groups for alternative treatments for cancer: advertising masquerading as community support. Lancet Oncol. 2021;22(1):25-26. doi:10.1016/S1470-2045(20)30457-5