Facebook is attacking cancer patients with ads for unproven treatments

One from Verita Life, in Bangkok, Thailand, targeting Australians like Autar, falsely claimed that a hypothermia treatment offered there would “kill cancer cells”. When Autar took a screenshot of his news feed ad in August 2020, it had over a thousand likes and 600 shares.

Autar reported the ads he saw to Facebook using systems in its platform, but they persisted. At one point, he said, he used a Silicon Valley connection to try to flag ads directly to Facebook management. He then stopped seeing the clinic’s ads in the Ad Library and on his own feed, but they returned a few months later.

Both CHIPSA and Verita Life had some ads running on Facebook and Instagram before MIT Technology Review asked about them, according to the Advertising Library. Verita Life was able to place an advertisement most recently on June 18, 2022, advertising the testimonials of a patient with prostate cancer. MIT Technology Review flagged that ad, along with two others promoting the same testimonial. All three are still active.

According to Meta’s Ad Library, this ad is still live. (MIT Technology Review)

Meta reviews new ads through a largely automated process before they appear online. The company notes that ads and posts from CHIPSA’s Facebook page and Instagram account are eligible to be flagged and validated by third-party validation checkers. Meta said that if a company repeatedly violates its policies, it will temporarily suspend the company’s ability to place ads.

While Meta has rules regarding, for example, misleading statements in advertising, all Facebook and Instagram ads must also follow. Meta . Community Guidelines. The policy prohibits content that “promotes or advocates miraculous cures that are harmful to health problems” when such claims both contribute to serious injury or death and have no purpose. legitimate health uses.

Those rules, even when enforced quickly, can leave a lot of gray areas for sensational claims, says Gorski, because “a lot of gossip can have legitimate health benefits.” “. He says, for example, “vitamin C clearly has legitimate health uses; it just doesn’t cure cancer. ”

What about Apatone, the treatment advertised by CHIPSA? Preclinical studies have shown some anti-cancer effects, but it “has not been shown to be more beneficial than the standard treatments we are using today in humans,” said Skyler Johnson, a cancer researcher who studies misinformation at the University of California, Los Angeles. Utah, said.

Danger is not simply unproven or ineffective treatments. Some of the alternative cancer treatments advertised on the platform can be physically damaging. Johnson said Coley’s toxin, a treatment developed in the late 19th century and offered at CHIPSA, comes with risks including infection, local reactions, anaphylaxis and in-school In severe cases, shock.

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