Facebook has become more aggressive at enforcing its coronavirus misinformation policies in the past year. But the platform remains a popular destination for people discussing how to acquire and use ivermectin, a drug typically used to treat parasitic worms, even though the Food and Drug Administration has warned people against taking it to treat Covid-19.
Facebook has taken down a handful of the groups dedicated to these discussions. But dozens more remain up, according to recent research. In some of those groups, members discuss strategies to evade the social network’s rules.
Media Matters for America, a liberal watchdog group, found 60 public and private Facebook groups dedicated to ivermectin discussion, with tens of thousands of members in total. After the organization flagged the groups to Facebook, 25 of them closed down. The remaining groups, which were reviewed by The New York Times, had nearly 70,000 members. Data from CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned social network analytics tool, showed that the groups generate thousands of interactions daily.
Facebook said it prohibited the sale of prescription products, including drugs and pharmaceuticals, across its platforms, including in ads. “We remove content that attempts to buy, sell or donate for ivermectin,” Aaron Simpson, a Facebook spokesman, said in an emailed statement. “We also enforce against any account or group that violates our Covid-19 and vaccine policies, including claims that ivermectin is a guaranteed cure or guaranteed prevention, and we don’t allow ads promoting ivermectin as a treatment for Covid-19.”
In some of the ivermectin groups, the administrators — the people in charge of moderating posts and determining settings like whether the group is private or public — gave instructions on how to evade Facebook’s automated content moderation.
In a group called Healthcare Heroes for Personal Choice, an administrator instructed people to remove or misspell buzzwords and to avoid using the syringe emoji.
An administrator added, referring to video services like YouTube and BitChute: “If you want to post a video from you boob or bit ch ut e or ru m b l e, hide it in the comments.” Facebook rarely polices the comments section of posts for misinformation.
Facebook said that it broadly looks at the actions of administrators when determining if a group breaks the platform’s rules, it said, and if moderators do break the rules, that counts as strikes against the overall group.
The groups also funnel members into alternative platforms where content moderation policies are more lax. In a Facebook group with more than 5,000 members called Ivermectin vs. Covid, a member shared a link to join a channel on Telegram, a messaging service, for further discussion of “the latest good news surrounding this miraculous pill.”
“Ivermectin is clearly the answer to solve covid and the world is waking up to this truth,” the user posted.
After The Times contacted Facebook about the Ivermectin vs. Covid group, the social network removed it from the platform.