Facebook Removes Select Ads Promoting Dangerous Misinformation on HIV Prevention after Over 65 LGBTQ, HIV/AIDS and Public Health Organizations Call for Action

December 30, 2019

 

 

Similar Ads Still Remain Despite Facebook’s Fact Checking Agency Categorizing Ads as  ‘Misleading’

 

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bob Menendez, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speak out after open letter exposed pervasive Facebook and Instagram ads targeting LGBTQ people with false medical claims and creating barriers to PrEP usage for at-risk populations

 

New York, NY,  December 30, 2019 - GLAAD, the world’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) media advocacy organization, and the PrEP4All Collaboration today responded to news that Facebook removed select ads which included misinformation about the use of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) as a preventative measure against HIV. The Washington Post broke the news of Facebook’s action this morning. Facebook’s action follows a public letter sent earlier this month by GLAAD, PrEP4All, and more than 50 LGBTQ, HIV/AIDS, and public health organizations calling for the ads to be removed from Facebook and Instagram.

The CDC states that “studies have shown that PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99% when taken daily,” however, public health officials cite the Facebook and Instagram ads with creating dangerous barriers to PrEP usage.

Science Feedback, one of the independent fact checking agencies that review ads running on Facebook products for misinformation, confirmed to GLAAD that an ad featuring misinformation about PrEP was found to be ‘misleading’ and would be removed from Facebook. More info here: https://healthfeedback.org/claimreview/hiv-drug-truvada-linked-to-kidney-damage-and-bone-density-loss-but-risks-are-low-and-usually-outweighed-by-the-drugs-benefits. According to Facebook’s Advertising Library, additional ads with similar language were also removed. Facebook confirmed to the Washington Post today: “After a review, our independent fact-checking partners have determined some of the ads in question mislead people about the effects of Truvada. As a result we have rejected these ads and they can no longer run on Facebook.”

However, GLAAD and PrEP4All found that many other similar ads are still running on Facebook products. 

“It’s gratifying to see one of Facebook’s fact-checkers backing up the overwhelming consensus of AIDS, LGBTQ, and HIV medical groups that these ads are misleading. But the question remains – why is Facebook taking money from these ambulance-chasing law firms for ads that are helping the spread of HIV?” said Peter Staley, a cofounder of the PrEP4All Collaboration. 

“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.”

On December 9, over 50 LGBTQ, HIV/AIDS, and public health organizations released a public letter addressed to Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The letter called on Facebook to remove dangerous and misleading ads. Nearly 70 organizations are now signed on to the letter. New organizations including AIDS Alabama, Fenway Health, Housing Works, New York City AIDS Memorial, U.S. People Living with HIV Caucus, and more joined after the initial launch. The letter can be found here: https://www.glaad.org/blog/open-letter-facebook

Earlier this month, Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted support of the campaign to get Facebook to remove the ads and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also issued a statement of support. On December 20, Sen. Bob Menendez, a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee that sets national health policy, also sent a letter to Zuckerberg calling the decision to allow the misleading ads to run “particularly egregious.” 

Images of some of the advertisements are available on GLAAD’s site. The Washington Post broke the news of the public letter on December 9, and it has since been covered widely across outlets including NBC News, TIME, The Guardian, Newsweek, The Hill, Bloomberg Law, The Advocate, Forbes.com, and more.  

National LGBTQ organizations, including GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), and The Trevor Project are among original cosignatories. Leading HIV-related advocacy and medical organizations including amfAR, AIDS United, the American Academy of HIV Medicine (AAHIVM), Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA), the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD), the National Coalition of STD Directors, the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC), and PrEP4All Collaboration are also among cosignatories of the letter. A full list is below and here.

The letter states in part: 

“Using Facebook’s and Instagram’s targeted advertising programs, various law firms are attempting to recruit gay and bisexual men who use Truvada PrEP as an HIV preventative to join a lawsuit, claiming that the drug has caused harmful side effects in this patient population, specifically bone density and kidney issues. By focusing on “Truvada” and PrEP — rather than “Tenofovir Disoproxil Fumarate” (or TDF) and HIV positive individuals who use it as an antiviral — the law firms’ advertisements are scaring away at-risk HIV negative people from the leading drug that blocks HIV infections. This is despite numerous studies underscoring the safety of TDF in HIV-negative PrEP users.

Leading public health officials, medical professionals, and dedicated PrEP navigators and outreach coordinators have shared that these advertisements on Facebook and Instagram are being directly cited by at-risk community members expressing heightened fears about taking PrEP. This issue goes beyond misinformation, as it puts real people’s lives in imminent danger.”

GLAAD previously contacted Facebook Advertising Policy about the PrEP ads referenced in the letter and was directed to third party fact-checking agencies used by Facebook as arbiters for misinformation on ads that run on Facebook and Instagram. GLAAD contacted the third party agencies. One of the agencies, Science Feedback, shared its decision on select ads on December 27. 

Three medical and HIV prevention experts recently wrote an op-ed calling out the ads, noting: “As public-health leaders, we are concerned that these often misleading and inflammatory advertisements are causing people to decide not to start PrEP or, in some cases, stop PrEP altogether. PrEP is a critically important component of the national plan to end the HIV epidemic in the United States by 2030.”

The co-signatories of the public letter are demanding that:

  • Facebook and Instagram immediately remove the advertisements that are harming public health.
  • Facebook and Instagram 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.”
  • Facebook commits to a review and potential update of current advertising policies to prevent false or misleading public health statements from reaching users. 

The letter, addressed to Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, points to Zuckerberg’s testimony before the House Financial Services Committee in October 2019. Zuckerberg stated, “If anyone, including a politician, is saying things [...] that [are] calling for violence, or could risk imminent physical harm [...] we will take that content down.”

The following organizations have signed the public letter as of December 30, 2019:
ACT UP New York
Advocates for Youth
AIDS Action Baltimore
AIDS Alabama
AIDS Foundation of Chicago
AIDS Project Rhode Island
AIDS United
amfAR
Amida Care
APLA Health
AVAC
Black AIDS Institute
Cascade AIDS Project
Chicago Center for HIV Elimination
Community Research Initiative (CRI)
Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation (South Africa)
End AIDS Now
Esperanza Health Centers, Chicago
Fenway Health
Friends for Life
GLAAD
GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis)
Health GAP
HealthHIV
HIV Dental Alliance
HIV Medicine Association
Housing Works
Howard Brown Health
Human Rights Campaign
JustUs Health
Latino Commission on AIDS 
Let’s Kick ASS NY (AIDS Survivor Syndrome)
LGBT Life Center
Mercy/Michael Reese Care Program, Chicago
Midway Specialty Care
NAM Aidsmap
NASTAD (National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors)
National Coalition for LGBT Health
National Coalition of STD Directors
National Working Positive Coalition
New York City AIDS Memorial
NMAC (National Minority AIDS Council)
Nyanza Reproductive Health Society (Kenya)
NYC’s LGBT Community Center
PrEPaccessNOW
PrEP4All Collaboration
Prevention Access Campaign
Prism Health
Provident Hospital Prevention Program, Chicago
Poz Military Veterans USA INTL 
Rhode Island Public Health Institute
RiseUpToHIV
San Francisco AIDS Foundation
Sinai Infectious Disease Center, Chicago
South Carolina HIV Council dba Wright Wellness Center
Southern AIDS Coalition
Tennessee Association of People With AIDS
Tennessee Community Outreach Initiative
Test Positive Aware Network, Chicago
Texas Health Action / Kind Clinic
The American Academy of HIV Medicine
The SERO Project
The Trevor Project
The Woodhull Freedom Foundation
Treatment Action Group
University of Chicago Medicine
U.S. People Living with HIV Caucus
Whitman-Walker Health