Facebook ads promote unproven treatments with fake Ben Carson endorsement

  • Published on January 24, 2024 at 17:29
  • Updated on January 25, 2024 at 22:56
  • 3 min read
  • By Natalie WADE, AFP USA
Screenshots shared on social media purportedly show news articles about how Ben Carson discovered a natural cure for high blood pressure and other conditions, including dementia. But the headlines are fabricated, and there is no evidence the former neurosurgeon and US cabinet member has made any such findings.

"Dr. Ben Carson discovered 3 completely natural ingredients, and as a result, blood pressure disappeared forever," says a January 10, 2024 Facebook post sharing what appears to be a screenshot of a CNN article.

"Headaches go away, blood cholesterol levels decrease, and symptoms caused by increased blood pressure disappear."

Screenshot of a Facebook post taken January 23, 2024

Similar posts have circulated elsewhere on Facebook.

Many refer to Carson, a former Republican presidential candidate and secretary of housing and urban development in the Donald Trump administration. Others share apparent screenshots of articles from Time magazine and the Mayo Clinic about supposed cures for other ailments, including dementia.

Screenshots of Facebook posts taken January 23, 2024

Hundreds of similar ads appear in Meta's Ad Library, several of which were taken down after receiving tens of thousands of impressions for not carrying a required disclaimer.

Screenshots of posts in Meta's Ad Library taken January 23, 2024

Like many other ads promoting unproven treatments on Facebook -- some using altered images of celebrity endorsements and fake articles -- the latest posts are false.

"This post is fake and a scam. Dr Carson has given no such endorsement," a spokesperson for Carson's nonprofit American Cornerstone Institute told AFP in a January 25 email.

AFP could not find any articles from CNN, The Washington Post or Time that match the headlines shared online (archived here, here and here).

"This is a fabricated image and not something CNN reported," Emily Kuhn, the news outlet's vice president of communications, said in a January 23 email.

While some posts do not include fabricated articles, they also do not specify what product they are promoting. Several link to websites selling unrelated items, such as bags, faucets, seed oils and cannabidiol products.

The ads exhibit some common features of health scams, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

"'Natural' doesn’t mean either safe or effective. In fact, 'natural' can mean both harmful and ineffective," the agency says on its consumer advice page (archived here). "And some 'natural' products might interfere with proven treatments recommended by your doctor."

The National Institute on Aging also warns against products posing as cures for conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease (archived here). 

The US Food and Drug Administration says on its website (archived here) that "health fraud scams run rampant on social media sites and closed messaging apps."

AFP contacted Time for comment, but a response was not forthcoming.

This article was updated with a comment from Ben Carson's American Cornerstone Institute.
January 25, 2024 This article was updated with a comment from Ben Carson's American Cornerstone Institute.

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