LGBTQ Blasts Facebook For Misleading HIV Ads – Earlier this month, more than 50 LGBTQ and HIV advocacy groups and public health organizations sent an open letter to Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, calling for the removal of Facebook and Instagram ads that were found to promote misinformation about HIV prevention medication Truvada.
The organizations that signed the letter were concerned the ads in question would discourage at-risk communities from embracing pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment, a daily medication regimen that — when adhered to by people who are HIV negative — reduces HIV risk by about 99 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“The advertisements are targeting LGBTQ Facebook and Instagram users, and are causing significant harm to public health,” the letter reads. “By allowing these advertisements to persist on their platforms, Facebook and Instagram are convincing at-risk individuals to avoid PrEP, invariably leading to avoidable HIV infections. You are harming public health.”
Social media misinformation
The ads were placed by law firms targeting LGBTQ social media users to join a class-action lawsuit against pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences that makes the drug.
Appearing in users’ Facebook and Instagram feeds, the ads center on health risks like kidney disease and decreasing bone density as side effects of taking Truvada, according to GLAAD, which released the letter in partnership with PrEP4. All Collaboration and the other organizations that signed.
Facebook, however, claims the ads do not violate any of the company’s policies.
“We value our work with LGBTQ groups and constantly seek their input. While these ads do not violate our ad policies nor have they been rated false by third-party fact-checkers, we’re always examining ways to improve and help these key groups better understand how we apply our policies,” Facebook said in a statement sent to Healthline.
A Facebook spokesperson wrote in an email to Healthline that the social media company has policies in place that prohibit misleading content and that the company relies on third-party fact-checking partners to identify “false news” and review the accuracy of content that appears on the platform.
They said this includes any misinformation surrounding health content.
Of course, this isn’t the first time the company has come under fire for content that has appeared in targeted ads.
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In recent years, constant controversy has swirled around misinformation in political ads that show up on the platform, for instance.
When it comes to the Gilead lawsuit ads in question, health officials are concerned that misinformation generated around HIV prevention medication could potentially discourage people who are at risk for contracting the virus from adhering to PrEP or even going on it in the first place.
Dr. Hyman Scott, MPH, the clinical research medical director at Bridge HIV, and an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), said that he has personally viewed these ads in his own social feeds.
He’s also had patients come to him with concerns over the information in the ads.
He told Healthline that he tries to give people who raise these concerns “proper context” about what the ads are — that they are from law firms working for plaintiffs in these lawsuits and not public service announcements from vetted health sources.
“Side effects from Truvada are well-known facts. There is nothing new being presented here. Side effects like these are relatively rare, and part of care for people on PrEP includes monitoring if there are any changes in bone mineral density, for example,” he said.
Hyman stressed that you should always personally vet your sources of information. If it isn’t from a trusted, medically approved health source, then you should question what you’re seeing on social media.
People who are on PrEP treatments typically go in for clinician visits every three months. At these visits, they will go through standard lab tests that will screen for any adverse reactions to the medications.