Facebook's Ivermectin Groups Are Unhinged and Out of Control

Facebook says it enforces policies against medical misinformation, yet the platform is full of what it claims to prohibit.

Aug 26 2021, 2:35pm

"Help!" a person posted to a Facebook Group, laying out the particulars of how a family member hospitalized with COVID-19 was being treated with oxygen, antibiotics, steroids, and expectorants. "He's going downhill fast. They're not willing to give him ivermectin."

"Why do hospitals not allow treatment of ivermectin? I still can't wrap my mind around it," another distressed person, who described their father being hospitalized with COVID, posted to a Facebook Group. "Is it straight up $?" Later, this person updated their post.

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"I just talked to the doctor with all the bad news," they wrote. "I asked him about ivermectin and he said words that will haunt me forever. 'Ivermectin is a quack.' This fucking doctor trolled me as he's telling me my dad is dying."

Facebook's detailed COVID-19 policy specifically proscribes "false claims about how to cure or prevent COVID-19," and claims it will "remove misinformation when public health authorities conclude that the information is false and likely to contribute to imminent violence or physical harm." None of this appears to have been applied to ivermectin, an anti-parasitic which is not scientifically proven to have any usefulness as a treatment or preventative measure for COVID. (While it has uses in humans when prescribed by a doctor, it's mainly used as a livestock dewormer.) The FDA has resorted to begging the public not to use it as a COVID treatment even as public-health officials in Mississippi and Florida report citizens being hospitalized due to overdosing on it; Facebook Groups, both public and private, are nonetheless overrun with bleak, harrowing posts from ivermectin advocates, as well as specific, misguided advice about how to use the drug, and lots of advice on how to obtain it.

Are you a Facebook worker who’s confused by, or has insight on, the platform’s policies on ivermectin and medical misinformation? Contact our reporters by email at tim.marchman@vice.com or anna.merlan@vice.com, or by Signal at 267-713-9832.

In one Group with 4,000 members dedicated to testimonials about the usefulness of ivermectin for treating COVID, for example, a woman posted, "Just new to this group and I’m in Canada. How can we get Ivermectin here? I have a son with Down syndrome and have heard that they might have a harder time with it and want to have some on hand just in case. Thank you!" Several posters offered links to online pharmacies, including one requiring no prescription. "Thank you so much!" the original poster replied to someone offering a list of doctors willing to offer prescriptions. "I just sent an email. With the fact that the vaccinated are carrying 250 times the viral load if they get sick we really need to use precautions." (This latter claim is false, but in this Group as others, it is a near article of faith that vaccinated people are vectors of disease against whom protection is needed.)

"Hi all," wrote a user in a different group with more than 5,000 members. "We bought these from Ukraine. Are they good? 3mg per tablet. Kind regards." Below their post was a photograph of bottles of ivermectin with dogs on the labels; in replies, Facebook users gave advice on how many milligrams of ivermectin to use per kilogram of body weight, and one asked where the poster had gotten the pills.

Detail from a Groups user's post. Image via Facebook.

In the same Group, a user posted an image of a bottle of a 1 percent sterile solution injection for cattle and swine, explaining that she'd had it since December and was concerned it could go bad. Several replies assured her it would be perfectly fine. One user wrote, "not good for you … at all," but perhaps had a conflict of interest, as they themselves sell ivermectin via courier in South Africa. On Wednesday, they posted an advertisement for their product, claiming the combination of vitamins, antihistamines, and ivermectin could cure COVID symptoms and offering a phone number to prospective clients. "Also suitable," they noted, "for Children."

In another Group, with more than 2,000 members, an administrator focused Wednesday on updated "protocols" from the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance, or FLCCC, a group of doctors and their allies who promote ivermectin use and celebrate discredited science. (Dr. Pierre Kory, head of the group, has become prominent over the last year, spreading the gospel of ivermectin everywhere from the Senate to Joe Rogan's podcast.) The FLCCC, the administrator wrote, is, as of this week, advising people to take two to three times as much ivermectin as it had previously recommended for early treatment of COVID; members of the group studied charts in an attempt to find out just how much they would need to squirrel away.

In yet another Group, which has 26,000 members and promotes itself as a medical team, a user who had just tested positive for COVID asked for help. "I tested positive this afternoon (day 2 of symptoms)," she wrote, "and I literally cleaned out my pharmacy’s supply of ivermectin and I only have enough for 2 doses until Friday. I’m one pill short of each dose for my weight. Basically I have to skip a day and I can only have one dose accurately weight based until I get more on Friday. Should I take one full 'weight based' dose and one less than weight based, or 2 equal doses both the same amount? Either way I have to skip a whole day which is disappointing." Users advised her to frontload her dosing for maximum efficacy.

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Across these and other groups, users offer reviews of business selling ivermectin online, discuss the effects of using the drug—eye pain is often mentioned, which some users believe is a result of ivermectin killing brain parasites or flushing toxins—and offer standard, if false, theories on the dangers of vaccination. They also offer a lot of earnest responses to trolls, like one who asked if there is a way to vape ivermectin, claiming he dislikes pills because of the ease with which they can be microchipped.

Facebook famously has a variety of rules and policies, and a great deal of trouble enforcing them at scale. What it has to say about ivermectin doesn't make clear exactly what the problem is here.

In response to a request for comment, a Facebook spokesperson asked Motherboard to append the following statement to two stories we published earlier this week showing that Facebook has sold ads promoting the use of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID and allowed the sale of ivermectin on its platform: "We do not allow ads promoting the use of Ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19 and have rejected these ads. We also do not allow the sale of pharmaceutical drugs on Facebook and will remove posts and ads that violate our rules.” When told this was demonstrably untrue, the spokesperson said, "We retroactively have rejected the ads that you sent us." Ads—including one about which Motherboard had written—promoting the use of ivermectin to treat COVID appeared to still be live the day after the spokesperson issued this statement, though, and Groups are rife with dealers selling the drug. 

The Facebook spokesperson asked Motherboard to send them specific examples of activities in Groups that violated Facebook policy; when told that Motherboard reporters don't work for Facebook but that the content in question could be found by searching for "ivermectin" using Facebook's search tool and joining Groups that came up, the spokesperson sent the following general statement, the first two sentences of which are plainly untrue given that many ivermectin groups operate in the open and can be trivially found on the platform:

“We remove content that attempts to buy, sell, donate or ask for Ivermectin. We also enforce against any account or group that violates our COVID-19 and vaccine policies, including claims that Ivermectin is a guaranteed cure or guaranteed prevention, and we don’t allow ads promoting Ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have removed 20 million pieces of COVID misinformation, labeled more than 190 million pieces of COVID content rated by our fact-checking partners, and connected over 2 billion people with authoritative information through tools like our COVID information center.”

They also pointed to a new Facebook policy about the advertising of prescription drugs that they said went into effect Wednesday. They declined to answer questions about what brought this new policy about, why it wasn't the policy previously, and why it isn't being enforced.

Tagged:

Facebook, medical misinformation, COVID-19

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