All screenshots via Facebook Ad Library.
In another clear example of Facebook’s problem with medical misinformation, a Motherboard review of the platform’s ad library has found a number of recent ads clearly advocating for the use of ivermectin in human beings. Ivermectin, an anti-parasitic commonly used in veterinary medicine and to treat some illnesses in humans, has exploded into the news recently as a likely-bogus treatment and preventative for COVID-19, promoted by a small army of contrarian podcasters and a group of fringe physicians, the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance. Facebook’s Groups are also full of people seeking advice on ivermectin, discussing the ways they’re using it on themselves or their children.
The FDA has recently begun outright begging the American public to stop using ivermectin to treat COVID, writing in a recent tweet, “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Come on, y’all. Stop it.” Mississippi public health officials said on Friday that 70% of recent calls to their poison control center hotline “have been related to ingestion of livestock or animal formulations of ivermectin purchased at livestock supply centers.” Meanwhile, a search of Facebook’s Ad Library shows that ad buyers can purchase ads using the word “ivermectin,” while other bogus treatments for COVID-19 appear to be blocked as terms. Enterprising ad buyers have taken advantage of that: A pharmacy chain in New Orleans began running an ad on August 21, for instance, that clearly states “For those that are looking for ivermectin, all … locations are fully stocked.” An enterprising would-be health influencer ran an ad about “boosting [her] immunity” with blueberries, kale, and ivermectin. A weight loss and “wellness” clinic in Arkansas that has also promoted misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines has an ad reading “YES, I use Ivermectin, along with other things to treat COVID. I've read the research. I've seen in my own patients improvement with early treatment.” It’s the only sponsored post the clinic has ever purchased, and the Ad Library shows it was bought on August 17, as the frenzy over ivermectin began to mount.
The Ad Library also shows a number of sponsored posts promoting politically-motivated conspiracy theories around ivermectin and COVID, including one from a GOP group in Oklahoma reading, "Why wouldn't we consider and study every possible treatment for an illness? Because it's not about the virus, it's about your freedom."
In private Groups, meanwhile, users freely dispense misguided medical advice to one another, giving extremely specific instructions on which forms of injectable ivermectin to buy from which veterinary supply stores, and what dosages to take. As journalist Ben Collins pointed out on Twitter, discussion in public Groups is only slightly more restrained, if at all:
Facebook didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from Motherboard. The social network has struggled for years and years on end to contain medical misinformation on its platform, a problem that’s become exponentially worse during the COVID-19 era. An anti-vax doctor, for instance, recently went absurdly viral for a speech he made at an Indiana school board meeting. Facebook has responded defensively to the idea that it's helping to spread medical misinformation; when President Biden said in July that social networks are “killing people” by failing to stem that misinformation, it responded with an indignant statement titled “Moving Past the Finger-Pointing.” Meanwhile, the supposed proof for Ivermectin’s efficacy as either a treatment for COVID-19 or a preventative for the illness keeps dissolving. A large study out of Egypt was retracted in July over serious concerns about both plagiarism and shaky data. Another large clinical trial released in early August found no benefit whatsoever. A Cochrane Library systematic review also found a large number of studies supposedly supporting the use of ivermectin were low-quality, writing, in part, “the reliable evidence available does not support the use of ivermectin for treatment or prevention of COVID‐19 outside of well‐designed randomized trials."