Facebook bans ads and commerce listings for face masks amid coronavirus panic

A shopper wearing a mask is pictured near a sign advising out-of-stock sanitizer, facial masks and rubbing alcohol at a store following warnings about COVID-19 in Kirkland, Washington on March 5, 2020. – The US reported its first case of the disease in January and its first death on February 29 — both in the state of Washington in the country’s Pacific Northwest. Since then the toll has risen to 11 and the virus has spread to at least 14 states, infecting more than 180 people, according to an AFP tally. On Thursday, Washington state officials announced a jump in cases, from 39 to 70. Ten of the 11 deaths have been reported there, with the other in California. (Photo by Jason Redmond / AFP) (Photo by JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images)

Facebook announced on Friday it is banning face mask ads and commerce listings from its platforms. “We are temporarily banning advertisements and commerce listings, like those on Marketplace, that sell medical face masks,” the tech giant said in a statement.

Director of Product Management Rob Leathern said the changes will start rolling out in “the days ahead.”

“We’re monitoring COVID19 closely and will make necessary updates to our policies if we see people trying to exploit this public health emergency,” he tweeted.

Online sales of virus protection products have skyrocketed, up 817% in the last two months, CBS News Consumer Investigative Correspondent Anna Werner reported on Friday. Medical supplies such as face masks and hand sanitizers have been sold at high markups on platforms including Facebook Marketplace.

“Supplies are short, prices are up, and we’re against people exploiting this public health emergency,” Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, said in a tweet on Friday.

Facebook has made a number of changes amid the global coronavirus outbreak. Last month, it said it would ban advertisements for products claiming they could prevent coronavirus.

“We already prohibit people from making health or medical claims related to the coronavirus in product listings on commerce surfaces, including those listings that guarantee a product will prevent someone from contracting it,” the company said Friday. “We also have a dedicated channel for local governments to share listings they believe violate local laws.”

Another change is with hashtags. When users of Facebook or Instagram click on a hashtag related to COVID-19, pop-ups for the World Health Organization (WHO), the CDC and local health authorities are provided.

“We’re focused on making sure everyone can access credible and accurate information,” Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said earlier this week.

The company said it is also blocking potentially dangerous hashtags, promoting WHO and the CDC in search, giving WHO unlimited free advertising and removing content with false claims and conspiracy theories related to the virus.

Facebook isn’t the only platform taking action. This week, eBay announced it will block new listings and remove current listings for face masks, hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes.

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