Facebook has been criticised by more than 50 LGBT+, HIV and public health groups after it refused to remove adverts claiming that PrEP usage carries a risk of harmful side effects.
The Facebook adverts in question allege that PrEP has been linked to bone disease and kidney disorders, and purport to be from personal injury lawyers and groups with names such as “Help for PREP & TDF Victims”.
GLAAD and its allies have debunked the ads as “factually inaccurate”, but it is feared that they “are convincing at-risk individuals to avoid PrEP, invariably leading to avoidable HIV infections”.
The Washington Post reports that they have been viewed “millions of times” in the past few months.
This issue goes beyond misinformation, as it puts real people’s lives in imminent danger.
Demetre Daskalakis, deputy commissioner for the Division of Disease Control at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, told the newspaper that four of his seven PrEP patients have seen the ads, and have asked him: “How could you be putting me on this medication that’s so unsafe? My Instagram ads say so.”
“This issue goes beyond misinformation, as it puts real people’s lives in imminent danger,” an open letter signed by 52 organisations read.
“The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that when taken daily, PrEP is highly effective for preventing HIV from sex or injection drug use.”
Rich Ferraro, GLAAD’s communications director, told The Hill that Facebook and its third-party fact checkers “have yet to provide any information about how or why they believe these ads are accurate.”
“Over 50 experts on AIDS and public health have provided research studies and first-hand knowledge that PrEP is safe, effective, and should be used by people who want to protect against HIV transmission,” he continued.
Facebook refuses to remove PrEP adverts.
The open letter, also signed by The Trevor Project and Human Rights Campaign, urges Facebook to remove the adverts immediately.
It also demands the social media giant commits to a “review and potential update of current advertising policies to prevent false or misleading public health statements from reaching users”.
Facebook claims that the ads have not been found false by its third-party fact checkers an do not violate its ad policies.
“We value our work with LGBTQ groups and constantly seek their input,” a spokesperson told The Hill.
“We’re always examining ways to improve and help these key groups better understand how we apply our policies.”
Facebook criticised over ad policy
Facebook has come under fire in recent months for its policies on advertising and fact-checking.
In October, a New York health centre was told it couldn’t run a PrEP awareness campaign because it “hadn’t been authorised to run ads about social issues, elections or politics”.
Facebook clarified that the issue was with the centre’s failure to complete a user verification process, which the centre said was because one member of stage uses a name on the social media site that doesn’t match their government ID.
The decision was criticised in light of Facebook’s recent move to relax rules on political advertising.
It is no longer a requirement for political ads on the site to be fact-checked, meaning that politicians can effectively target constituents with lies.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was grilled by US lawmaker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez about the policy in a House of Representatives hearing, a video of which promptly went viral.
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