Jul 21, 2019 | Updated: 09:46 AM EDT

Facebook set to clamp down on content with misleading or sensational health claims

Jul 12, 2019 10:37 AM EDT

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Given the focus on vanity in social media and showcasing a highlight reel of your life through public posts, it is no surprise that sensational health claims for weight loss, baldness and other physical conditions run rife in ads across the various social media networks.

As explained by Facebook:

"Last month we made two ranking updates to reduce the reach of posts with exaggerated or sensational health claims and posts attempting to sell products or services based on health-related claims. For the first update, we consider if a post about health exaggerates or misleads - for example, making a sensational claim about a miracle cure.  For the second, we consider if a post promotes a product or service based on a health-related claim - for example, promoting a medication or pill claiming to help you lose weight." 

In a blog post, Facebook said that it had made two updates last month to reduce posts with sensational or exaggerated health claims. Facebook said that it would take action to reduce posts that are making assertions about miracle cure and against the ones that are aimed to promote products or services on health-related claims, like pills for weight loss.

The company and its associates around the world are under growing pressure to rid their platforms of fake news and misinformation, and the spread of misleading health claims were highlighted as a concern in some recent media reports.

The Wall Street Journal reported that YouTube and Facebook were filled with harmful information about health treatments.

"We know that people don't like posts that are sensational or spammy, and misleading health content is particularly bad for our community," Facebook product manager Travis Yeh said.

The update will not have a major impact on users' news feed, Facebook said. The update is a good one for Facebook with more people relying on social network for their information needs and news distribution, confusing, false claims like these can only make matters worse, and such claims are detectable by Facebook's systems.

Facebook stated in a blog post on how they will weed out such content:

"We've handled this in a similar way to how we've previously reduced low-quality content like clickbait: by identifying phrases that are commonly used in these posts to predict which might include sensational health claims or promotion of products with health-related claims, and then showing these lower in News Feed."

This, together with Facebook's outlined update to reduce the reach of anti-vax content, could go a significant way towards removing such posts from the feeds of the people, and lessening their influence on the world's most popular social media platform.

It is that scale that's the strength and weakness of Facebook. Having the most popular social application in the world is of benefit, but as Facebook has repeatedly been made aware of, it also comes with a higher level of responsibility to police information flow and protect users who may not even realize that they need protecting. That goes against the principles of Facebook and other social networks, in that they would prefer to be havens of free speech, where the users dictate what is and is not acceptable.

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