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Facebook adds health support groups to anonymous publishing

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook

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In a rare break with the Facebook tradition of forcing users to publish under their real names, the company will allow people to send sensitive health information anonymously to Facebook groups, the company announced on Tuesday.

Users will be able to send posts to the managers of these groups, many of whom are secret or closed in order to submit queries on their behalf. It also separates health care groups with the special name 'health promotion'.

Changes could help people feel more confident in these groups, which are often sponsored or supported by pharmacies. Ensuring that these groups are active and lively could help Facebook as they increasingly seek advertising and medical companies.

Over the past few years, Facebook has faced significant criticism of how it uses and shares information from its users. As far as healthcare is concerned, the company has taken the wrong steps, such as allowing traders to gather contact information from private groups and removing photos from surviving breast cancer patients when they are mistakenly identified as pornography.

Facebook acknowledges that he has not resolved all these issues, even though he is taking some steps he hopes will help members of these groups.

Hema Budaraju, director of product health management for Facebook, told CNBC that the company is doing "extensive research" to understand the needs of patients who rely on Facebook.

"We believe it is a good time to be more responsible for building tools so that we can better serve these viewers," she said. "We will try to learn more about this space."

Budaraju, who also works on Facebook's blood donation function, stressed that Facebook is not done. The company still has ways to go into health disinformation management, which continues to spread despite recent efforts and moderate content so that users with serious diseases are not treated with snake drugs.

Recent Facebook privacy scandals have not led patients away from the web.

Wego Health, which associates influential patients with healthcare companies, surveyed over 400 patients this year and found that 98% still use Facebook, 94% are part of the Facebook health group, and only 3% deleted for privacy. The authors of the report concluded that for many patients Facebook is too important to be removed.

Safe space

Ashley M. Greiner, a lawyer suffering from congestive heart failure, works with Facebook on a new feature. Greiner's Patient Group with colleagues is closed, which means that an approval process is needed and some of its members are very active, while others only absorb information. Greiner will not invite doctors and other health professionals to the group, so it will be a safe place for members. She is also eager to avoid any contributions that market potential medications or treatments.

Greiner asked Facebook to make an anonymous contribution to her 1600 members, but the company mostly insisted that users write with their real names (with some recent exceptions). Greiner said she could get in touch with the Facebook health team after she was reliant on another person in the group to get a job on Facebook.

"I have members who want to ask questions and don't want to offend anyone, or just don't want a husband or a carer to see it," she said. "Anonymous Broadcasting is a great step towards providing support groups."

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