REPORT: COVID deception ‘thriving’ on social media platforms

National
Social media apps

In this photo illustration, social media apps are seen on a mobile phone. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (NEWS10) — The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has released a new analysis that found COVID-19 fraud and deception to be prevalent on social media platforms. The FTC said the pandemic has created a breeding ground for this type of fraud.

Social media platforms generally make money with advertising. The FTC said because of this, the algorithms tend to favor content that drives engagement. However, that content can sometimes be decisive or harmful.

Since the pandemic began, the FTC has sent more than 400 letters to advertising companies demanding that they stop spreading misinformation on COVID. This fraud includes making claims that various pills, potions and treatments could prevent, treat, or cure COVID.

About half of the advertisers who received letters made the claims on some of the largest social media platforms:

  • 172 of the letters cite claims that appeared on Facebook
  • 69 of the letters cite claims that appeared on Instagram
  • 35 of the letters cite claims that appeared on Twitter
  • 27 of the letters cite claims that appeared on YouTube

For example, on Facebook Live, the FTC said a marketer pitched beaded bracelets with the promise they would “cleanse[] lung tissue,” “open[] congested bronchia,” and “help you with your immune health and breathing issues, which is what we need with the [coronavirus].”

The FTC said a clinic advertised vitamins, injections, and other “therapies” on Instagram. A naturopathic practitioner used multiple social media platforms, including YouTube, to promote light treatments, IV drips, and supplements to protect against the virus. Then there was also the doctor who used Facebook to post claims that Ivermectin was effective both to prevent COVID and to treat patients who had already been diagnosed.

The FTC’s analysis didn’t evaluate why these claims are appearing so frequently on social media, but they did make some observations:

  • Platforms are designed to amplify content, making it easy for scammers to spread false claims and target consumers
  • This type of content can be highly profitable for platforms, as false promises of miracle cures are attractive to consumers
  • While platforms may take steps to remove misleading content once flagged, it has most likely already spread to millions of consumers

The FTC said it will continue to monitor social media and demand that the false claims be taken down, but platforms should do more to prevent this content appearing on their platforms in the first place.

“Bogus claims of miracle cures may be successful in attracting consumers’ eyeballs, but they can have devastating consequences for Americans who forgo needed treatment or part with hard-earned money in pursuit of false cures,” said the FTC.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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