Facebook has begun to pull down “misleading” adverts targeting users of HIV-preventing PrEP drugs, after strong criticism from HIV charities.
A coalition of HIV and LGBT+ groups had sent an open letter earlier this month, warning that Facebook adverts were spreading false information within the LGBT+ community about Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP).
Personal injury lawyers, who are believed to be building support for a prospective drug lawsuit, were accused of “scaring away” people who would benefit from PrEP with targeted ads raising fears about side-effects like bone and kidney damage.
Facebook finally pulls down misleading PrEP ads
Although Facebook initially declined to act, The Washington Post reports that the adverts are now finally being pulled down – after the website’s third-party fact-checkers concluded they were misleading.
Peter Staley, a cofounder of the PrEP4All Collaboration, said: “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?”
Sarah Kate Ellis of GLAAD said: “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.
“Dozens of organisations 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 marginalised communities.”
Facebook’s prior refusal to act over the ads had led to criticism from Presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren, who said: “Facebook is allowing entities to target misleading and false ads about HIV prevention drugs to LGBTQ+ communities and others.
“This can have serious public health consequences. Facebook needs to put the safety of its users above its own advertising profits.”
Ads ‘overstate risk’ for PrEP users
Fact-checking website Health Feedback noted in July that one ad “overstates the risks for those who take Truvada as a preventative” and “ignores the fact that the health benefits of taking Truvada for both HIV prevention and treatment may greatly outweigh the risks.
It noted that extensive studies have shown that “no significant health effects have been seen in people who are HIV-negative and have taken PrEP for up to 5 years.”