Facebook removes pseudoscience ads that targeted vulnerable users

Brittany A. Roston - Apr 23, 2020, 3:14pm CDT
Facebook removes pseudoscience ads that targeted vulnerable users

Ahead of a report that was looking into the matter, Facebook has removed its ‘Pseudoscience’ ad category, which enabled advertisers to target users who showed interest in the topic. With this category, advertisers could present ‘alternative’ products to consumers who may be interested in them, ones based on junk science, conspiracy theories, and similar things.

News of the removal comes from The Markup, which had reached out to Facebook about its ‘Pseudoscience’ ad-targeting category. With that, advertisers could target their advertisements specifically at users who were grouped together based on their interest in pseudoscience topics, which may include everything from anti-vaccine groups to the latest spat of coronavirus conspiracy theories.

The report aimed to highlight the issue of the ‘Pseudoscience’ targeting option in light of Facebook’s pledge to deal with COVID-19 misinformation that was floating around its service. According to the report, Facebook had more than 78 million people amassed in its ‘Pseudoscience’ ad option, making it possible for companies to attempt to profit off these people.

After the publication reached out to Facebook for a comment on the matter, The Markup says that Facebook eventually said on Wednesday that it had removed the category altogether. The report highlights one example of the type of product that was listed under the Pseudoscience category, however: what appeared to be a knit cap advertisement as an anti-EMF beanie.

When asked about its product, the company behind the beanie claimed that Facebook was the one to categorize it under the ‘Pseudoscience’ option. Facebook has been criticized for allowing this ad targeting option, with critics accusing it of enabling companies to profit off of people who are vulnerable to the conspiracy theories that dot the Internet landscape.


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