Shouldn’t we expect social media to practice a little information hygiene?

It’s been in the news that Facebook openly allows political ads to lie, which is appalling. But did you know that while they’ve made some efforts to police specific forms of quackery, there is a thriving market for others?

Even as Facebook has cracked down on anti-vaxxers and peddlers of snake oil cure-alls, a particularly grotesque form of fake cancer treatment has flourished in private groups on Facebook. Black salve, a caustic black paste that eats through flesh, is enthusiastically recommended in dedicated groups as a cure for skin and breast cancer — and for other types of cancer when ingested in pill form. There’s even a group dedicated to applying the paste to pets.

A Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that these groups don’t violate its community guidelines. This summer, it launched an initiative to address “exaggerated or sensational health claims” and will downrank that content in the News Feed, similar to how it handles clickbait. But it’s not clear how it defines what a “sensational” health claim is. Citing user privacy, Facebook would not say whether or not it had downranked the black salve groups in the News Feed.

Black salve is truly awful stuff — it’s a corrosive goop that burns away whatever part of your body it touches, and its proponents proudly post grisly photos of holes punched through their bodies or chunks of flesh that have fallen off. They take pride in their self-abuse, and claim it cures just about everything. It’s certainly potent and has demonstrable affects, just like Republicanism, but also likewise is simply universally destructive.

It’s also the case that other social media, like MeWe, are also afflicted with this black salve poison. Shouldn’t they all take action to prevent their platforms from being a place that does harm by spreading bad information?


  1. blf says

    Another poison marketed as an cure-all is MMS, or miracle mineral solution, which is chlorine dioxide (industrial bleach). Yer supposed to drink the stuff. It’s deadly.

    The FDA has advised against it, and it is banned in multiple countries as a medical treatment. Nonetheless, there are kooks — masquerading as a (presumably tax-free) church (of course!), the Genesis II Church of Health and Healing — based in the States who are promoting this poison world-wide, Church to offer miracle cure despite FDA warnings against drinking bleach (“Group to hold effective alternative healing event in Washington state in which they peddle a sacrament known to be industrial cleaner”). Whilst that article is from April 2019, the kooks have also been active since, e.g., Kenyan government warns public of Miracle Mineral Solutions danger (“As a result of skeptic bloggers, Kenyans are now being warned about the man treating sick people with industrial bleach”).

  2. says

    I help run a local newspaper and it would be impossible to fact check every ad and letter. We leave it up to our readers to respond and point it out.

  3. brucegee1962 says

    I am not sure why there is a big kerfuffle now about Facebook allowing false political ads. Politicians have lied as long as there have been politicians; political advertising has been around as long as advertising has existed. Numerous Supreme Court decisions exist that basically say, if a newspaper, say, allows any political ads as well, then it is not allowed to pick and choose which ones to allow and which ones to block. I don’t see any reason why Facebook should be different.

    Our defense against political lying is a robust journalism and fact checkers. It’s no surprise that our liar-in-chief chooses to make these people his enemies. But to the extent that he is succeeding and eroding peoples’ trust, I think it’s a terrible idea to fall back and hope for Big Tech to save us. Giving the media platforms even more power to control what information people receive sounds like a recipe for further disasters down the road.

  4. raven says

    Like a lot of alt med cancer treatments, black salve treatment is occasionally fatal.
    Not because it itself is fatal, but because it diverts patients away from real medical treatment that works.
    Here is one such case reported.

    Dermatol Pract Concept. 2014 Jul; 4(3): 77–80.
    Published online 2014 Jul 31. doi: 10.5826/dpc.0403a16
    PMCID: PMC4132006
    PMID: 25126466
    Application of black salve to a thin melanoma that subsequently progressed to metastatic melanoma: a case study
    Graham W. Sivyer1 and Cliff Rosendahl1

    This is a case study of a female patient diagnosed with superficial spreading melanoma who decided to treat the lesion by the application of a preparation known as black salve. Persistence of the melanoma was documented five years later with subsequent evidence of metastatic spread to the regional lymph nodes, lungs, liver, subcutaneous tissues and musculature. A literature search has revealed one other case study of the use of black salve for the treatment of melanoma.

    This patient’s survival went from 88% ten year survival to..
    2.5% ten year survival.
    A superficial stage 1 melanoma ended up being a stage 4 metastatic melanoma.

  5. robro says

    I don’t want Zuck policing “facts” for me. If we make FB shoulder that responsibility it could create the false impression that we are getting truth.

    Twitter’s approach to political ads seems easy: ban them. But, are there ads and other content that aren’t strictly political (“Vote for This”) but lean that way by arguing points of view? I don’t know, but I suspect so, and restricting that could be dicey. You’re not going to stop the RNC from having a FB page where they post opinion pieces that support their platform.

    The “let the reader do it” approach would be nice, and should certainly be a component, but readers aren’t any more reliable than FB or Twitter and the paid ads they run.

    Another approach is to clearly label ads as paid political cruft. Television started that decades ago…I guess they still do but I don’t watch TV. FB does something like that but users have to bother to click the “i” button.

    One final angle might be to provide an affordance from posts on FB et al to fact checking resources, and perhaps even aggregate fact checking scores. Admittedly that’s a stretch.

  6. brucegee1962 says

    The problem with platforms banning all political ads is that there may be an increasing number of voters who can only be reached online. Those voters might appreciate the opportunity to live free of political advertising, but is it fair to candidates to essentially block them from contacting these potential supporters?

  7. chrislawson says


    Thanks for that reference. Fortunately the paper is in an open access journal here. Makes for very interesting reading and not too much dermatological jargon for non-medical readers. Also some grotesque photos.

  8. simonhadley says

    It amazes me the kind of garbage that gets advertised on FB yet I get banned for a week because I opined that all christians are potentially terrorists when given the proper motivation.

  9. chrislawson says


    That seems perilously close to arguing that political candidates should have the right to force media companies to take their advertising and that consumers of those media companies should be forced to see those ads.

  10. chrislawson says


    I’m not supporting your FB ban, but your statement is wrong. There are many historical examples of christians who chose to die rather than commit acts of violence, even in self defence.

  11. John Morales says

    There’s even a group dedicated to applying the paste to pets.

    Grrr. I’m not that fussed if people want to hurt themselves, but it really irritates me that people torture their pets thus. That does make me quite angry.

    As for the post topic, no, I don’t think there should be any expectation about social media mediating bullshit content when it comes to actual people conversing and sharing beliefs and opinions, but I do think there should be for its other aspects. Thing is, “social media” is a bit of a misnomer, because it’s also used as a news medium and as a business medium and as a political medium.

  12. says

    Meanwhile, Facebook is refusing to run ads for PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylactic, a proven approach to reducing the chance of contracting HIV through casual exposure) because they are “too political.”

  13. John Morales says

    Gregory, so? Hardly surprising.

    Need it be said that FB is there to make money, nothing more and nothing less?

    Obviously, every single decision they make is based on whether it will increase profits or not. Expecting them to be reasonable in any other manner is utter futility.

  14. wzrd1 says

    With respect, it wasn’t all that long ago that that was the only recourse, ineffective or barely-effective as it was.
    Today, the barely effective want to trumpet against highly more effective, you’ll just feel like shit and likely, lose hair.
    OK, blow off my ball and ass hair off, then my underarms, head and screw it, all of it.

    Survival requires fucking hair or something?
    Screw survival then!

  15. blf says

    How key Republicans inside Facebook are shifting its politics to the right (my added emboldening):

    Facebook has been accused of pro-Republican bias, in both policy and personnel, amid fears at the company that it could be broken up if a Democrat wins the White House next year.

    Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg faced fierce criticism this week, first for including Breitbart […] in its list of trusted sources for Facebook News, then for refusing to ban or factcheck political advertising.

    [… O]bservers note that Facebook has recruited former Republican operatives in senior positions and is bound to put self-interest above anything else.

    David Brock, founder and chairman of Media Matters for America, a progressive media watchdog, said: “Mark Zuckerberg continues to kowtow to the right and rightwing criticism. It began when he met with a bunch of rightwingers in May 2016 and then Facebook changed its algorithm policies and we saw a lot of fake news as a result.

    “I think there’s a consistent pattern of Zuckerberg and the Breitbart issue is the most recent one where the right is able to make false claims of conservative bias on Facebook and then he bends over backwards to accommodate that criticism.”

    Brock […] added: “I think there’s also the issue of a cluster of conservative Republican operatives who are running the policy shops at Facebook, which just compounds the problem. That you’ve got the major senior players all coming out of Republican politics is not great for the perception of fairness that Facebook should be trying to project.”


    The Republican strain in Facebook was highlighted in a recent edition of the Popular Information newsletter, which stated that the top three leaders in the company’s Washington office are veteran party operatives. “Facebook’s DC office ensures that the company’s content policies meet the approval of Republicans in Congress,” Popular Information said.


    And on and on. And on… For instance:

    […] In another report, Popular Information said it uncovered a network of 14 big Facebook pages that, violating the company’s rules, pretend to be independent but exclusively promote content from the conservative site the Daily Wire, which it described as “a cesspool of misogyny, bigotry, and misinformation”.

    And on:

    Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute, argued that Zuckerberg and [CEO Sheryl] Sandberg are reckless “authoritarians” who helped get Jair Bolsonaro elected in Brazil and will do whatever it takes to preserve their power.

    “I don’t see why Facebook book wouldn’t give Trump a massive, unlimited donation to get him re-elected. Who would even be able to find out whether they did that?”

    One key individual in fracebork’s paranoia clique seems to be “Joel Kaplan, vice-president of global public policy at Facebook, [… a] former law clerk to archconservative justice Antonin Scalia on the supreme court”, and an open supporter of Brett Kavanaugh, and apparently also a supporter of Brietbart and Daily Caller.