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Cancer Patient Complains: My Facebook Feed Is Full of ‘Alternative Care’ Ads

The author of an opinion piece in the New York Times describes what happened after sharing their cancer diagnosis on Facebook:
Since then, my Facebook feed has featured ads for “alternative cancer care.” The ads, which were new to my timeline, promote everything from cumin seeds to colloidal silver as cancer treatments. Some ads promise luxury clinics — or even “nontoxic cancer therapies” on a beach in Mexico.

There’s a reason I’ll never fall for these ads: I’m an advocate against pseudoscience. As a consultant for the watchdog group Bad Science Watch and the founder of the Campaign Against Phony Autism Cures, I’ve learned to recognize the hallmarks of pseudoscience marketing: unproven and sometimes dangerous treatments, promising simplistic solutions and support. Things like “bleach cures” that promise to treat everything from Covid-19 to autism.

When I saw the ads, I knew that Facebook had probably tagged me to receive them. Interestingly, I haven’t seen any legitimate cancer care ads in my newsfeed, just pseudoscience. This may be because pseudoscience companies rely on social media in a way that other forms of health care don’t. Pseudoscience companies leverage Facebook’s social and supportive environment to connect their products with identities and to build communities around their products. They use influencers and patient testimonials. Some companies also recruit members through Facebook “support groups” to sell their products in pyramid schemes…

It was only last April that Facebook removed “pseudoscience” as a keyword from its categories for targeted advertising, and only after the tech publication The Markup reported that 78 million users were listed in Facebook’s ad portal as having an “interest” in the category… Facebook pledged that it would add a warning label to Covid-19-related ads and would remove pseudoscience ads that were reported by its users. The problem, which even Facebook acknowledged, is that pseudoscience content can run for months before being flagged by readers. Facebook’s main ad-screening system is automated. While we wait for its artificial intelligence system to catch up with the discernment abilities of human reviewers, a steady flow of pseudoscience advertising has already slipped through on a platform with billions of users.

Could it be that Facebook has gotten too big to adequately regulate its content?

The article also suggests one way that individuals can join a movement to pressure Facebook to change: “suspend, delete or even just spend less time on Facebook (and on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook).”

“My retreat from Facebook may mean fewer online connections, perhaps at a time when I need them the most. But I’d rather leave than see what another friend with cancer calls the ‘slap in the face’ ads.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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