Facebook disables some misleading ads on HIV prevention drugs, responding to growing outcry

From the Washington Post

Facebook has quietly started removing some misleading ads about HIV prevention medication, responding to a deluge of activists, health experts and government regulators who said the tech giant had created the conditions for a public-health crisis.

The ads at issue — purchased by pages affiliated with personal-injury lawyers and seen millions of times — linked drugs designed to stop the spread of HIV with severe bone and kidney damage. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocates long have said such claims are “false,” pointing to multiple studies showing the class of medication, known as PrEP, is safe.

After initially declining to disable the ads, Facebook began on Friday retroactively labeling some of them as rule violations in its archive, limiting their visibility. The company’s third-party fact-checkers concluded the ads were misleading and lacked context, according to a copy of an email sent by those fact-checkers to LGBT groups that was shared with The Washington Post, which first reported on the matter earlier this month.

The change in course at Facebook drew praise from LGBT organizations that had worked since September to stop the spread of HIV misinformation on the social media platform. But many activists said they remain uneasy that it took so long to get Facebook’s attention in the first place — and worried the company’s policy on such ads in the future remains unclear.

“The removal of select ads is a strong first step given the findings of Facebook’s own fact-checking agency and the dozens of organizations that spoke out,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, the leader of GLAAD. She added 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.”

Facebook spokeswoman Devon Kearns confirmed that the company had taken action against some of the ads. “After a review, our independent fact-checking partners have determined some of the ads in question mislead people about the effects of Truvada,” she said, referring to the name of the drug. “As a result we have rejected these ads and they can no longer run on Facebook.”

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