- Fears around the novel coronavirus have created a bustling market in medical face masks on Facebook.
- People are buying and selling huge quantities of the masks via dedicated Facebook groups with tens of thousands of members.
- Public health experts have warned that stockpiling masks could make it harder for medical professionals to get the supplies they need.
- There have been 79,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, and more than 2,600 deaths.
As the number of coronavirus cases continues to grow, fears are mounting — and for some entrepreneurial Facebook users, that means business is booming.
Over the last few weeks, as the novel coronavirus outbreak has spread across the globe, bustling groups have popped up on Facebook with tens of thousands of members dedicated to buying and selling large quantities of medical face masks, Business Insider has found.
The practice illustrates how Facebook has become the go-to platform for people in times of crises, whether it’s utilized to check the safety of loved ones or to make a quick buck reselling medical supplies — and it could hamper medical professionals’ attempts to combat the outbreak.
Facebook users in the groups don’t typically specify the reason they’re seeking to buy or sell the masks, and in some cases they might be attempting to source them for medical institutions. But in cases of stockpiling, public health experts have warned that panic-buying protective gear can make it harder for those who need it most, medical professionals, to get their hands on it.
In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson said: “While we allow people to buy and sell masks on Facebook, we are taking a closer look at this Group. We recently implemented a policy to prohibit ads that refer to the coronavirus and create a sense of urgency, like implying a limited supply, or guaranteeing a cure or prevention. We also have policies for surfaces like Marketplace that prohibit similar behavior.”
One group, “N95 mask surgical mask supplier,” was created on January 30, 2020, and advertises itself as a way to “protect yourself from killer CORONA virus.” It has more than 14,000 members, and more than a thousand posts a day.
Another group, “Surgical Mask and N95 suppliers Lounge,” was created on February 1, 2020, and boasts 4,000 members posting 300-plus times a day.
Those looking to sell post photos of their wares — huge stacks of boxes of masks — and typically indicate where they are, how much they have, and how much they’re charging for them.
Others are in the market to buy — and vendors are happy to oblige.
Business Insider did not buy or verify the sellers’ advertised masks, and it’s possible that some are scammers looking to take advantage of people’s desperation to buy — a suspicion shared by some Facebook users in the comments of some of the posts.
Facebook is not the only tech platform experiencing a surge of activity around face masks. On Tuesday, Wired reported that some third-party sellers on Amazon have been attempting to price-gouge customers looking for masks, jacking up their prices to many times what they would normally retail for.
There have now been more than 79,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, and more than 2,600 deaths. US health officials have warned that they expect to eventually see “community spread” in the US, and that it may cause “significant disruption.”
Do you work at Facebook? Got a tip? Contact this reporter using a nonwork device via encrypted messaging app Signal (+1 650-636-6268), encrypted email (email@example.com), standard email (firstname.lastname@example.org), Telegram/Wickr/WeChat (robaeprice) or Twitter DM (@robaeprice). PR pitches by standard email only, please.
- Instagram’s lax privacy practices let a trusted partner track millions of users’ physical locations, secretly save their stories, and flout its rules
- Mark Zuckerberg’s personal security chief accused of sexual harassment and making racist remarks about Priscilla Chan by 2 former staffers
- Facebook says it ‘unintentionally uploaded’ 1.5 million people’s email contacts without their consent
- Years of Mark Zuckerberg’s old Facebook posts have vanished. The company says it ‘mistakenly deleted’ them.
Subscribe to the newsletter news
We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe