Following a BuzzFeed News report, Facebook has banned several groups that promote and discuss black salve, a dangerous and unproven skin cancer treatment. The banned groups include the two largest, which had respectively around 21,000 and 12,000 members. According to Facebook, the groups were banned not for the rules prohibiting “sensational health claims,” but for violations of Facebook’s rules prohibiting “Violent and Criminal Behavior.”
Black salve is a paste typically made from bloodroot and zinc chloride that is so caustic it eats away at the skin. While the medical community warns strongly against its use, a small group of people believe that it can cure skin cancer by eating away only the cancerous cells. Dr. Melanie Bui, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Vermont Medical Center and coauthor of a paper on the dangers of black salve, told BuzzFeed News that this is not true — black salve destroys both healthy and cancerous tissue, and can even possibly mutate cancerous cells, causing normally treatable skin cancers to metastasize and spread.
Black salve users risk disfiguring wounds or even death if they use it in lieu of evidence-based medical treatments. In the groups, users suggest using it for breast cancer, or even ingesting it to treat other ailments.
The FDA does not allow the sale of black salve in the US, although in the Facebook groups, people shared advice on where to buy it on websites hosted outside the country and have it shipped, or traded DIY recipes.
In late October, BuzzFeed News reported on how these groups flourished, even after the platform cracked down on other forms of medical misinformation like anti-vaccine pages and groups, or quack treatments like drinking bleach to “cure” autism. In the last year, Facebook rolled out a way to limit the reach of pages and groups that make “exaggerated health claims” by downranking the content and removing them as suggested items on the sidebar.
At the time of the report just a few weeks ago, the social media giant said that these groups did not violate its community guidelines. A representative for Facebook told BuzzFeed News that they were unable to provide more detail as to why the groups were now found to be in violation of the rules on “violent and criminal behavior.”
However, it seems likely that the groups were found to be in violation of a section about regulated goods (which include drugs, firearms, and live animals). The section prohibits content that “coordinates or encourages others to sell non-medical drugs” or “promotes, encourages, coordinates, or provides instructions for use or make of non-medical drugs.”
During the reporting of BuzzFeed News’ earlier story, YouTube removed several videos about black salve use, and Amazon removed a book about black salve from its store.
On one of the remaining black salve groups on Facebook, one user asked what had happened to all the other groups. In the comments, people said that the other groups were banned, but that some of the users have migrated over to a platform called MeWe.com, which is a sort of alternative to Facebook groups. MeWe told BuzzFeed News that it would remove the term from search results, but would not ban groups dedicated to black salve discussion, citing the fact that its platform works differently than Facebook in terms of spread and promotion.
The corrosive ingredient in black salve is zinc chloride. An earlier version of this post misstated the type of chemical.