In its never-ending quest to censor content, Facebook’s automated content moderation system threatened to ban charitable “DIY” face mask companies from promoting their content on the social media platform.
Over the past month, Facebook cracked down on what they deem to be harmful coronavirus content. The social media giant banned certain types of posts related to the virus, many of which they consider “misinformation.”
Facebook also banned advertisements for the sale of protective medical equipment such as masks and hand sanitizer. It also banned the sale of any medical equipment on their “buy-and-sell” section called Facebook Marketplace. DIY face mask groups also got caught in the crossfire.
According to the New York Times, the Philadelphia-based group Sew Face Masks was caught in Facebook’s censorship battle. The group provides handmade face masks to individuals, essential workers, community organizations, local small businesses, as well as healthcare workers. The group aims to curb the spread of coronavirus by providing protection, simultaneously pushing for N-95 masks and other high-quality medical equipment to be saved for medical workers.
Sew Face Masks’s founder Nicole Jochym told the New York Times that Facebook flagged some of her posts in Sew Face Masks’s private community group. She said Facebook deemed the posts as unacceptable for breaking guidelines against regulated goods and services.
When a post is flagged or taken down, content creators are given a warning. If a content creator continuously breaks Facebook guidelines they may be ineligible to post or comment on the site.
“The automated systems we set up to prevent the sale of medical masks needed by health workers have inadvertently blocked some efforts to donate supplies. We apologize for this error and are working to update our systems to avoid mistakes like this going forward. We don’t want to put obstacles in the way of people doing a good thing,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.
Charities such as Sew Face Masks are critical after the Center for Disease Control (CDC) announced a new recommendation to wear cloth face coverings in public settings, but they may be hindered from growing their reach due to Facebook’s crackdown on coronavirus misinformation.
“CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission,” the CDC announcement reads.
The CDC specifically recommends cloth coverings not surgical masks or N-95 respirators.
“Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance,” the CDC said.