Facebook lifts ad ban on non-medical face masks

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Facebook is partially lifting its advertising ban on face masks and will now allow third-party businesses to advertise cloth masks and other non-medical face coverings like bandanas, the company announced on Wednesday.

The company first instituted a site-wide ban on ads for all forms of face masks, including medical and respiratory masks, in March due to national shortages and concern for medical staff and other frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ban was also designed to protect against scams, misleading marketing, and other abuses, as Facebook could not reasonably vet every ad promoting face masks that began flooding online marketplaces in early March.

As the spread of the novel coronavirus began accelerating throughout the US earlier this year, a surge in demand for cleaning products, face masks, and other household goods created a unique predicament for online ad markets and e-commerce companies. Merchants have been found price gouging, making false health claims, and failing to deliver purchased goods, leading Amazon, Facebook, Google, and other companies to institute a number of bans and other measures to cut down on exploitative behavior.

In April, the US Centers for Disease Control adjusted its face mask guidance — people are now advised to wear masks outdoors and in places where social distancing is difficult, like grocery stores. As a result, Facebook is lifting the ban to make it easier for people to find and purchase cloth masks. The ban remains in effect for medical and respiratory masks like the 3M-made N95 mask. Just yesterday, 3M sued an Amazon Marketplace seller for selling fake N95 masks at inflated prices, illustrating the ongoing issues plaguing medical face mask sales, which are now being tightly controlled by Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Many health authorities now advise wearing non-medical masks — and in some places masks are required for activities like taking public transportation or visiting a store — and we’ve seen people and businesses of all sizes working to fill this need,” Facebook’s Rob Leathern, its director of product management, wrote in a blog post.

Facebook is still imposing some restrictions. It says companies or independent merchants will need to have accumulated at least a four-month history of advertising on Facebook to be approved to market masks. It’s also restricting sellers in countries “where we have seen high percentages of policy-violating ads promoting medical supplies during the temporary ban” to selling only non-medical masks within the country the seller is located, Leathern explains.

The company is also maintaining its ban on any ads that make medical claims or any product marketed with health or COVID-19-related wording. Primarily, that means the products that can be advertised will be handmade cloth masks and other forms of face coverings made out of fabrics or reusable material.

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