Three months after the company banned vaccine misinformation, CNBC has found evidence of people using one of Facebook's own features to skirt its policies. The company allows users to create custom borders for their profile pictures that they can then upload so that other people can freely use them. The idea behind these is to enable individuals to show support for a cause. But borders found by CNBC and Engadget express the kinds of anti-vaccine claims Facebook has tried to prevent from spreading.
For instance, Facebook explicitly prohibits content suggesting it's safer to get sick from COVID-19 than getting vaccinated against it. Yet, many of the frames include messaging the company ostensibly prohibits. "I trust my immune system, not a shot," says one of the borders. Another one plays on Je suis Charlie, a slogan that came out of the Charlie Hebdo shooting in 2015, and the 5G conspiracy theories that circulated at the start of the pandemic. "Je suis vaccine pour le 5G," it says. Roughly translated, "I am vaccinated for 5G."
When CNBC reached out to Facebook, it confirmed the frames violated its policies and that it was working to remove them from the platform. As of the writing of this article, it's still possible to add the borders to your profile picture. For the most part, they're also trivial to find. It's not clear how long the images have been around, nor how many people have added them to their profile pictures. However, like other types of anti-vaccine content on social media, it appears only a handful of people made many of the frames.
"We are actively promoting profile frames that encourage people to share their support for COVID-19 vaccines and removing any that break our rules," a spokesperson for Facebook told Engadget. "More than five million people globally have used one of these profile frames to express support for the vaccines, and more than half of people in the US on Facebook have already seen someone use one of our profile frames encouraging support for vaccines."
The company also pointed us to a blog post it published on Tuesday that details the usage of pro-vaccine profile frames. According to Facebook, more than 5 million of its users have added the images to their profile pictures. It also claims that more than 50 percent of Facebook users in the US have seen a profile with the frames it developed with help from the US Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Update 4:31PM ET: Facebook has removed the two profile frames highlighted by Engadget after we contacted the company.