The misleading ads Facebook removed overstated the risks and underrated the benefits of using PrEP as an HIV preventative. But LGBTQ advocates still want the social media mega-corporation to take more action.
Facebook has started pulling ads with misinformation regarding PrEP and Truvada after more than 50 LGBTQ organizations signed an open letter addressed to Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
On December 9, HIV/AIDS and public health organizations called on Facebook to remove dangerous and misleading ads. As of Dec. 30, nearly 70 organizations are listed as signatories. The newest organizations to participate include AIDS Alabama, Fenway Health, Housing Works, New York City AIDS Memorial, and U.S. People Living with HIV Caucus. A full list is here.
Independent fact-checking agency Science Feedback confirmed that an ad featuring misinformation about PrEP was found to be “misleading” and would be removed from Facebook.
According to the website of Health Feedback, a Science Feedback subsidiary, “Although the claim that the HIV drug Truvada can cause kidney damage and decrease bone density is accurate, and these side effects are stated in the drug’s prescribing instructions, the claim overstates the risks for those who take Truvada as a preventative rather than as a treatment. It also ignores the fact that the health benefits of taking Truvada for both HIV prevention and treatment may greatly outweigh the additional risks.”
The Washington Post broke the news of Facebook’s action this morning.
“After a review, our independent fact-checking partners have determined some of the ads in question mislead people about the effects of Truvada,” Facebook spokeswoman Devon Kearns said, referring to the name of the drug. “As a result we have rejected these ads and they can no longer run on Facebook.”
“It’s gratifying to see one of Facebook’s fact-checkers backing up the overwhelming consensus of AIDS, LGBTQ, and HIV medical groups that these ads are misleading. But the question remains – why is Facebook taking money from these ambulance-chasing law firms for ads that are helping the spread of HIV?” said Peter Staley, a co-founder of the PrEP4All Collaboration.
“But Facebook has put a warning on only one ad thus far, with many more unaffected,” he continued, adding: “If this is their official response, after ignoring us for months, then it’s a mess.”
“Removing select ads is a strong first step, but the time is now for Facebook to take action on other very similar ads which target at-risk community members with misleading and inaccurate claims about PrEP and HIV prevention,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD President and CEO.
"The time is now for Facebook to take action on other very similar ads which target at-risk community members with misleading and inaccurate claims about PrEP and HIV prevention.” https://t.co/QqupUEy1r0— Sarah Kate Ellis (@sarahkateellis) December 30, 2019
Adding, “Dozens of organizations have told Facebook that the safety and effectiveness of PrEP to prevent HIV transmission is unequivocal. The pervasiveness of these ads and the subsequent real world harm should be catalysts for Facebook to further review how misleading and inaccurate ads are allowed to be targeted at LGBTQ and other marginalized communities.”
The CDC states that “studies have shown that PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99% when taken daily.” However, public health officials cite the Facebook and Instagram ads with creating dangerous barriers to PrEP usage.
Earlier this month, Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted support of the campaign to get Facebook to remove the ads and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also issued a statement of support. On December 20, Sen. Bob Menendez, a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee that sets national health policy, also sent a letter to Zuckerberg calling the decision to allow the misleading ads to run “particularly egregious.”
The letter can be found here and excerpted below.
“Using Facebook’s and Instagram’s targeted advertising programs, various law firms are attempting to recruit gay and bisexual men who use Truvada PrEP as an HIV preventative to join a lawsuit, claiming that the drug has caused harmful side effects in this patient population, specifically bone density and kidney issues. By focusing on “Truvada” and PrEP — rather than “Tenofovir Disoproxil Fumarate” (or TDF) and HIV positive individuals who use it as an antiviral — the law firms’ advertisements are scaring away at-risk HIV negative people from the leading drug that blocks HIV infections. This is despite numerous studies underscoring the safety of TDF in HIV-negative PrEP users.
Leading public health officials, medical professionals, and dedicated PrEP navigators and outreach coordinators have shared that these advertisements on Facebook and Instagram are being directly cited by at-risk community members expressing heightened fears about taking PrEP. This issue goes beyond misinformation, as it puts real people’s lives in imminent danger.”
Three medical and HIV prevention experts recently wrote an op-ed calling out the ads, noting: “As public-health leaders, we are concerned that these often misleading and inflammatory advertisements are causing people to decide not to start PrEP or, in some cases, stop PrEP altogether. PrEP is a critically important component of the national plan to end the HIV epidemic in the United States by 2030.”
Written by Sarah Toce, The New Civil Rights Movement. Image: Mark Zuckerberg, via NCRM