Facebook has once again banned Natural News, an infamous peddler of conspiracy-focused content. But the ban wasn't due to the outlet's propagation of fake news—it was for alleged spam tactics.
The tech giant made the move last week after discovering the outlet was using troll farms from North Macedonia and the Philippines to spread its articles, many of which included false information about the novel coronavirus and its relation to 5G, Bill Gates, and hydroxychloroquine. Facebook also found that the farms were posting content from Natural News' sister sites, NewsTarget and Brighteon, to inflate the apparent popularity of their articles.
NBC News also reports the far-right news site, founded by Michael Allen "Mike" Adams, was one of the biggest promoters of Plandemic, a 26-minute viral video that propagated COVID-19 conspiracy theories, including the claims that the disease was "part of an elaborate government plot to control the populace through vaccines."
The social network explained its decision to ban Natural News in a statement to NBC: "We removed these Pages for spammy and abusive behavior, not the content they posted. They misled people about the popularity of their posts and relied on content farms in North Macedonia and the Philippines."
Facebook said its spam alarms went off due to irregular activity involving Natural News. These included attempts to evade rates limits and posting content at an abnormally high frequency.
Natural News was kicked off of Facebook in 2019—about two months after the platform announced it was cracking down on pages that spread misinformation about health-related topics. Facebook told the Daily Beast it had de-platformed the outlet because it had violated policies against spam. Adams blasted the move in an online post, claiming it was part of a "heavily-funded smear campaign." He also referred to Facebook founder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg as a criminal and compared him to Adolf Hitler.
Natural News reportedly managed to get around the 2019 ban by posting content through its popular disinformation groups titled "Amazing Cures" and "GMO Dangers." Luca Nicotra, a senior campaigner at the nonprofit activist organization Avaaz, said Natural News' use of informal subgroups has significantly boosted its reach.
"Since the takedown has happened, Natural News has reached hundreds of millions of people by utilizing an entire universe of pages that are pushing this disinformation," Nicotra explained. "What’s needed is a major detox, a systemic solution to quarantine serial health misinformers. If they don’t, their lies and conspiracies could contaminate millions more and threaten the global response to COVID-19."