Facebook News Feed changes downrank misleading health info and dangerous ‘cures’

No, drinking bleach is not a miracle cure for diseases and other conditions — but that’s the sort of bogus health claim that’s floating around the web these days, getting blocked by sites like Amazon and YouTube. Now you can add Facebook to that list of sites taking action — well, kind of! The social network today announced it will minimize the spread of health content that’s sensational or misleading.

No, not block it. Not ban it. Minimize it.

Facebook says it’s taking the same approach to reduce the spread of misleading health information as it did when it previously changed the News Feed algorithms to downrank clickbait and other low-quality content. (Not that clickbait ever killed anyone the way that fake miracle cures have. But we digress.)

In two algorithm changes, which actually rolled out a month ago but are only today being detailed, Facebook says it’s reducing the spread of posts that make exaggerated or sensational health claims, as well as those trying to sell products or services based on health-related claims.

The former will go to address the dangerous miracle cures while the latter will be more focused on reducing the spread of posts trying to make a buck through unsubstantiated claims — like those touting weight loss pills, for example.

“Posts with sensational health claims or solicitation using health-related claims will have reduced distribution,” explains Facebook. “Pages should avoid posts about health that exaggerate or mislead people and posts that try to sell products using health-related claims. If a Page stops posting this content, their posts will no longer be affected by this change,” it says.

With a focus on Facebook Pages, the changes could overlook a popular means of spreading misleading health information: individuals. A number of people directly post misinformation to their own Facebook timeline — either intentionally or because they’re also misinformed. This can range from the relatively harmless homemade cures that aren’t as effective as they claim, to those that are actually pretty bad — like a recipe for homemade sunscreen that puts people at risk of skin cancer because it doesn’t block UV rays — to outright dangerous information.

Facebook says that, in fact, the change will focus on Pages as well as friend posts or group posts.

That said, it’s unclear to what extent this will block the sort of “social selling” where MLMs like AdvoCare, Herbalife, or It Works!, for example, require their salespeople to post to their own profile pages with posts they write themselves, in a knowing effort to get around News Feed changes like this. And this is especially true if the profile owner’s friends interact with the content, which makes the post seem — to an algorithm at least —  like quality, organic fare. Where is the line between what’s misleading health information, and what’s friends chatting about some new diet shake, after all? And how is that being decided?

Facebook says that it anticipates that “most Pages won’t see any significant changes to their distribution in News Feed as a result of this update.”

So helpful!

7/2/19, 5:00 PM ET – Updated to clarify change can impact profiles and group posts.