Facebook has quietly removed false and misleading ads about HIV-prevention medications after months of pressure from LGBTQ+ and health organizations.
Fifty organizations including Glaad and PrEP4All started a public campaign in December, arguing that the social media platform was putting “real people’s lives in imminent danger” by refusing to remove targeted ads containing medically incorrect claims about the side effects of HIV-prevention medications such as Truvada.
The ads highlighted by the campaign were largely run by personal injury lawyers seeking potential clients, and falsely claimed medications like Truvada could cause severe kidney and liver damage.
But “PrEP is safe and generally well-tolerated,” Trevor Hoppe, a sociologist of sexuality, medicine and the law, previously told the Guardian. “Any misinformation to the contrary is likely bad for public health, especially communities hardest hit like gay men in the US.”
On Monday morning, Facebook quietly removed some of the ads. “After a review, our independent factchecking partners have determined some of the ads in question mislead people about the effects of Truvada,” a spokesperson for the company told Washington Post. “As a result we have rejected these ads and they can no longer run on Facebook.”
“It is critical that Facebook and other social media platforms consider quick action when civil society organizations flag inaccurate information in ads on their platforms,” Rich Ferraro, the chief communications officer at Glaad, said on Monday. “The pervasiveness of these particular ads, coupled with the slow pace of Facebook’s decision making and the 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.”
Ferraro tells the Guardian that Glaad’s campaign targeting misleading HIV-prevention ads on Facebook is only the first of many the group has planned against social media platforms “to demand safer environments for LGBTQ people”.
LGBTQ+ activists and organizations have repeatedly pressured Facebook to improve its relationship to the community and re-examine policies that inadvertently harm it.
Ironically, the company came under fire in October for banning an ad that promoted universal access to HIV-prevention medications. At the time, the company told the Guardian the ads were originally banned because they had failed to undergo Facebook’s verification process for “social issue” ads.
“We allow ads that promote health care services on Facebook,” a spokesperson told the Guardian. “We require extra steps before ads can run if they also advocate for or against certain social issues, like equal access to health care.” The ads were eventually allowed to run.