Facebook Responds to Pressure and Pulls Some Misleading Ads on PrEP

Advocates call it a good start but want the tech giant to remove all such ads.

Facebook has pulled a series of ads from its platform that had potentially misinformed millions on the health risks of HIV prevention medication Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), also known by the brand name Truvada.

The ads, which were connected to personal-injury attorneys, falsely linked the medication to severe bone and kidney damage, despite research showing it is safe and its potential side effects are far outweighed by its benefits among at-risk groups, such as men who have sex with men. Fifty-plus LGBTQ organizations, including GLAAD, HRC, and The Trevor Project, signed onto an open letter to Facebook earlier this month urging the company to take action.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bob Menendez, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo all expressed support for the calls to pull the ads, putting further pressure on the tech giant.

Despite initially declining to do so, on Friday the company began labeling some of the ads as in violation of its policies, The Washington Post reports.

“After a review, our independent fact-checking partners have determined some of the ads in question mislead people about the effects of Truvada,” Facebook spokeswoman Devon Kearns said. “As a result we have rejected these ads and they can no longer run on Facebook.”

Facebook HQ
JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images

While the announcement has been met with some celebration, advocates are calling for Facebook to do more.

“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,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD President and CEO.

“Dozens of organizations 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 marginalized communities.”

It’s gratifying to see one of Facebook’s fact-checkers back up the overwhelming consensus of AIDS, LGBTQ, and HIV medical groups that these ads are misleading,” said veteran HIV/AIDS activist Peter Staley.

“But Facebook has put a warning on only one ad thus far, with many more unaffected…If this is their official response, after ignoring us for months, then it’s a mess.”

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