12 August 2020

The New York Times: “I Have Cancer. Now My Facebook Feed is Full of ‘Alternative Care’ Ads”

Last week, I posted about my breast cancer diagnosis on Facebook. Since then, my Facebook feed has featured ads for “alternative cancer care”. The ads, which were new to my timeline, promote everything from cumin seeds to colloidal silver as cancer treatments. Some ads promise luxury clinics — or even “nontoxic cancer therapies” on a beach in Mexico.

There’s a reason I’ll never fall for these ads: I’m an advocate against pseudoscience. As a consultant for the watchdog group Bad Science Watch and the founder of the Campaign Against Phony Autism Cures, I’ve learned to recognize the hallmarks of pseudoscience marketing: unproven and sometimes dangerous treatments, promising simplistic solutions and support. Things like “bleach cures” that promise to treat everything from Covid-19 to autism.

When I looked at my body after my recent surgery, I wished there was another choice. I would have given just about anything to be on a beach in Mexico. But I’ve witnessed the false promises of these companies. I’ve spoken to someone who flew to that beach clinic, only to return home and discover that her tumor was inoperable. The evidence is clear: Death rates are much higher for people with cancer who choose alternative therapies instead of standard care.

Anne Borden King

Absolutely horrifying! With every new article like this it becomes clearer what a complete disgrace Facebook is, making money while contributing to the suffering and early death of the ill.

Unfortunately, this highlights one of the reasons actions such as the recent ad boycott against Facebook have little impact on the company’s earnings. Many big ad spenders did not join the boycott, but even if they had, Facebook could simply replace their ad slots with all sorts of false advertising, from these alternative cancer cures to anti-vax propaganda – not to mention political ads, which the company refused to ban prior to the US presidential election. Knowing full well that the vast majority of companies, particularly small and medium businesses, have little alternative than to continue to advertise through Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg declined to take action in response to the boycott, declaring that all these advertisers will be back on the platform soon enough. And as July ended, some indeed returned, while others plan to extend the boycott into August at least.

The only consistent solution I see would be clear regulations around these misleading ads, or better enforcement of the existing rules against deceptive acts or practices, restrictions on microtargeting and ultimately on who can buy what type of ads on Facebook. Just as entities outside the country should not be allowed to post political ads, healthcare-related ads should be allowed only from medical facilities, climate-related ads from scientific institutions, and so on.

My surgery team didn’t deliver false hope or send me to the beach. They stood under bright lights in a gritty urban hospital to open me up and repair me so I could breathe again. The solutions they offer aren’t simple; I have months of challenges ahead. But throughout this journey, I’ll find support from the people closest to me. Not from Facebook.

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