Facebook: The Early Years
Facebook has been one of the most popular social media sites since its inception in the early 2000s and has experienced a few major transformations in its time. While the community used to be education-based, where members were first students from specific colleges and universities, Facebook quickly became more inclusive for anyone with an email address to use. As the site grew in popularity, it became profitable for various entities. Advertisers could feature ads to be seen by millions, and then billions, and individual users could also sell products or services based on their popularity with their Facebook friends and others. As the social network expanded its features, the efforts made to monetize the site and sell to everyday users also increased.
Social Media Meets the Beauty Industry
Along with the ability to make money, users’ perceived vanity has also been capitalized on. The name “Facebook” alone provides some clues as to why that may be. Users feature pictures of themselves on their own Facebook page for all the world to see. Borne of a world in the midst of digitization, the innate need for humans to socialize, and features like filters for pictures, the health and beauty industry has seen a surge in social media marketing. Unfortunately, some of the content provided in their advertisements is misleading.
A post promotes health and wellness more safely when it is presented by a trusted source with scientific evidence to back up any health-related claims. Now, much of the health content on Facebook boasts miracle cures and rapid weight loss with more emphasis on the promotion of products rather than beneficial medical information. The companies and individuals who sell products or services on social media are not always associated with the medical community. Through social media sites like Facebook, advertisers reduce the reach of curious users looking to improve themselves by sharing links to websites and videos that purport services based on health.
The Facebook News Feed Algorithm Update
Facebook recognizes that many users are vulnerable to exaggerated or sensational health claims and marketing and have taken steps to combat the issue. In June of 2019, Facebook launched two separate algorithm updates to target the site’s news feed. The technology will scan for terms commonly used in deceptive marketing in the health and beauty industry, where some common tactics are posts about how to lose weight or suggest products with health benefits and will share relevant keywords. Once these posts are located, they will be featured lower on the news feed. Both misinformation in the form of bogus claims, as well as related products for sale, have been affected by the ranking updates.
The Facebook update comes just months after the social media giant took steps to demote content from the anti-vaccination movement. This hardline stance proves that Facebook recognizes that many of its users view posts and information displayed on the platform as factual, which could have adverse effects on their health and wellness. While it may not be possible to entirely remove posts that make exaggerated assertions, it will become much more difficult for Facebook users to find.
Recent Facebook Updates
Aside from discrediting unsubstantiated claims made in the wellness world, Facebook has also introduced different features for comments left under posts. Responses from the poster, as well as his or her friends, will gain top spots in the comments sections, and unrelated spam content might be removed. Another update in the works is providing a tool for Facebook users to clear their search information from the site. Most people are aware that Facebook stores personal search information which allows advertisers to market more effectively to individuals. In order to help people maintain their privacy and decrease the amount of marketing material they see, a tool remains in development to clear site data and start anew.
Facebook owns Instagram, and because the systems operate on different algorithms, updates occur separately. Instagram also features similar posts with exaggerated health claims that can mislead followers. All too commonly, celebrities and Instagram influencers are willing to promote the misinformation. Many of these stars have undergone plastic surgery or have followed regimens under a doctor’s advice, but are not qualified to serve as a medical authority themselves. It is unclear if Facebook has attempted to make any improvements to the Instagram algorithm to eliminate this issue on the picture-sharing platform as well.
Facebook’s Continued Responsibility
While it is clear that Facebook has taken steps when a post about health exaggerates the claim of a product or treatment, and previously anti-vaxxer propaganda, it is unclear if these strategies are effective. Adjusting an algorithm is a method where artificial intelligence routinely policies social media, but some feel this method is insufficient, and material should be monitored by actual people. Because the social media network now has billions of users across the globe, a more hands-on approach may not be feasible. These steps are necessary to ensure the integrity of the medical community and the safety of everyday people, but Facebook must continue these methods and enact more effective solutions in the future if necessary.