Facebook's “Pseudoscience” Ad Category

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Facebook's “Pseudoscience” Ad Category
Short Title Facebook Supported Spreading Misinformation with Targeted Ads
Location Global
Date April 2020

Solove Harm Aggregation, Surveillance, Secondary Use
Information Behavioral, Preference, Identifying, Computer Device, Knowledge & Belief
Threat Actors Advertisers on Facebook, Facebook

Affected Users of Facebook
High Risk Groups
Tangible Harms

During the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020 Facebook was found helping to spread misinformation about the coronavirus by having an advertisement category “Pseudoscience” in their interests library for targeted ads.


During the pandemic in spring 2020 Facebook appeared to allow advertisers to profit from ads targeting people that the company believes are interested in “pseudoscience”.

This means Facebook was offering advertisers the ability to target people who are, to Facebook's opinion, susceptible to pseudoscience and/or conspiracy theories. More than 78 million people were found to be in that category.

Several privacy violations can be identified here.

It is known that Facebook profiles each user according to their preferences, which helps tailor Facebook's library of targeted ads. Aggregation. The profiles of users' ads preferences are created by Surveillance of users' online activity.

This helps Facebook and advertisers to profit from interpreted users’ interests. However, the link between the content user actually wants and Facebook's interpretation of what the user might be interested in is unclear. Interpreting user's preferences and promoting the ads that are spreading misinformation and harmful content during the pandemic can be seen as Secondary Use for-profit purposes.

A study in February showed that in total 104 pieces of content were identified as spreading false or misleading information about coronavirus and they had been viewed by the platform’s users more than 117 million times.

In late April 2020 company claimed that Facebook had eliminated the "pseudoscience" interest category. 

Laws and Regulations


https://secure.avaaz.org/campaign/en/facebook coronavirus misinformation/