More than 50 LGBTQ, HIV/AIDS and public health organisations have slammed Facebook for allowing “dangerous and false” adverts about PrEP on its platforms.
Led by GLAAD and the PrEP4All Collaboration, the US groups released an open letter to Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
They called on the social media company to remove the “misleading ads” currently running on Facebook and Instagram that “promote misinformation” about the use of PrEP as a preventative measure against HIV.
“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,” reads the letter.
The groups said that the “law firms’ advertisements are scaring away at-risk HIV negative people from the leading drug that blocks HIV infections” despite numerous studies underscoring the safety of PrEP use.
Public health officials, medical professionals and PrEP outreach coordinators warned that the ads are creating “heightened fears about taking PrEP” among at-risk communities. “This issue goes beyond misinformation, as it puts real people’s lives in imminent danger,” they stated.
GLAAD said it had contacted Facebook about the misleading PrEP ads, was directed to third-party fact-checking agencies used by Facebook and was told that the ads would not be removed
“Facebook’s refusal to take action on ads that target at-risk community members with false medical information points to a much larger problem for Facebook users and an urgent need for LGBTQ safety to be prioritised across their products,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis.”
An example of one of the ads on Facebook
Three medical and HIV prevention experts recently wrote an op-ed stating that “these often misleading and inflammatory advertisements are causing people to decide not to start PrEP or, in some cases, stop PrEP altogether.”
“PrEP can save lives and has been shown to be effective at blocking HIV transmission,” commented Alphonso David, President of the Human Rights Campaign. “Facebook and Instagram should not allow misinformation to flourish on their platforms, especially when it comes to people’s health and well-being.”
In addition to demanding that Facebook and Instagram immediately remove the ads, the groups have also called on Facebook to commit to a review and potential update of current advertising policies to prevent false or misleading public health statements from reaching users.
“We have a wealth of documented reports from frontline prevention experts raising the alarm on these ads, and have been met with infuriating responses from Facebook about their vague and shifting advertising policies,” said Peter Staley, a cofounder of the PrEP4All Collaboration.
“Since they also blocked pro-PrEP ads from a leading AIDS prevention group, I’m beginning to wonder if the company could care less about the spread of HIV among gay men.”
In November, Facebook was accused of blocking an LGBTQ health centre’s adverts promoting PrEP and HIV prevention because they were about “social issues, elections, or politics.” The ads were later reinstated.