50 LGBTQ Orgs Call Out Facebook for Spreading Misinformation About PrEP

"You are harming public health."

Executives at Facebook are no strangers to controversy, but the latest set of accusations against the media company might be some of the most egregious yet.

Fifty-plus LGBTQ advocacy groups, including GLAAD, HRC, and The Trevor Project, have signed onto an open letter to Facebook urging the company to address and remove ads for personal-injury law firms it displayed that allegedly spread misinformation about the HIV prevention drug Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), also known by its brand name, Truvada. When used correctly, the drug is highly effective at preventing new infections in HIV-negative patients, so much so that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) just launched a program to provide free PrEP to eligible Americans who don’t have health insurance.

The ads in question—uploaded as screenshots to GLAAD’s website—allegedly target gay and bisexual men and purport life-threatening side effects of PrEP use that activists claim are “scaring away at-risk HIV negative people from the leading drug that blocks HIV infections.”

GLAAD reportedly contacted Facebook’s advertising team a month ago to flag the misleading ads to no avail: The company confirmed it would still display them, deferring to the third party fact-checking agency it uses to evaluate the accuracy of prospective adverts.

“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,” the open letter reads. “You are harming public health.”

Meanwhile, representatives from Facebook, which also owns and operates Instagram, claim the ads flagged in the open letter do not violate its policies for advertisers.

“We value our work with LGBTQ groups and constantly seek their input,” Devon Kearns, a spokesperson for Facebook, told The Washington Post. “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.”

In addition to “immediately removing” the misleading ads, GLAAD and its 50-plus co-signatories also demanded that Facebook “be transparent with users and the LGBTQ community on their advertising policy around misinformation which states that ’in certain circumstances’ Facebook prohibits ads that include ’claims debunked by organizations with particular expertise,'” and “[commit] to a review and potential update of current advertising policies to prevent false or misleading public health statements from reaching users.”

“These concerns of the LGBTQ community, AIDS activists, and public health professionals need to be prioritized by Facebook, especially since lives and public health are at stake,” the groups added.

Read the full open letter on GLAAD’s website.

Brooklyn-based writer and editor. Probably drinking iced coffee or getting tattooed.