Over 50 LGBTQ, HIV/AIDS, and Public Health Organizations Demand Facebook Remove Ads Promoting Dangerous and False Information About HIV Prevention

December 9, 2019

Facebook’s refusal to take action prompts public letter exposing pervasive Facebook and Instagram ads targeting gay and bi men with false medical claims and creating barriers to PrEP usage for at-risk populations    

 

New York, NY – December 09, 2019 - GLAAD, the world’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) media advocacy organization, in partnership with the PrEP4All Collaboration and over 50 LGBTQ, HIV/AIDS, and public health organizations released a public letter today addressed to Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The letter calls on Facebook to remove dangerous and misleading ads currently running on Facebook and Instagram that include misinformation about the use of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) as a preventative measure against HIV.

The full letter is available here and the current list of organizations signed on to support is below. Images of some of the advertisements are available on GLAAD’s site. The Washington Post broke news of the letter this morning.

National LGBTQ organizations, including GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), and The Trevor Project are among 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, and the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) are among cosignatories of the letter. A full list is below and here.

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.

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.”

Peter Staley, a cofounder of the PrEP4All Collaboration added: “We have a wealth of documented reports from frontline prevention experts raising the alarm on these ads, and have been met with infuriating responses from Facebook about their vague and shifting advertising policies. Since they also blocked pro-PrEP ads from a leading AIDS prevention group, I’m beginning to wonder if the company could care less about the spread of HIV among gay men.”

GLAAD previously contacted Facebook Advertising Policy about the PrEP ads referenced in today’s letter and was directed to third party fact-checking agencies used by Facebook as arbiters of accuracy in ads. GLAAD contacted the third party agencies, but did not receive a response. Facebook confirmed the ads would not be removed while new ads, and new profiles behind the ads, continue to appear.

“Facebook’s refusal to take action on ads that target at-risk community members with false medical information points to a much larger problem for Facebook users and an urgent need for LGBTQ safety to be prioritized across their products,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “This initiative is the first of many public actions that we will lead against social media platforms to demand safer environments for LGBTQ people.”

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.”

"PrEP can save lives and has been shown to be effective at blocking HIV transmission,” said Alphonso David, President of the Human Rights Campaign. “Facebook and Instagram should not allow misinformation to flourish on their platforms, especially when it comes to people’s health and well-being. These dangerous ads should be removed and banned from running in the future.”

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 08, 2019:
ACT UP New York
AIDS Action Baltimore
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
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)
Mercy/Michael Reese Care Program, Chicago
NAM Aidsmap
NASTAD (National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors)
National Coalition for LGBT Health
National Coalition of STD Directors
National Working Positive Coalition
NMAC (National Minority AIDS Council)
Nyanza Reproductive Health Society (Kenya)
NYC’s LGBT Community Center
PrEP4All Collaboration
Prevention Access Campaign
Prism Health
Provident Hospital Prevention Program, Chicago
Rhode Island Public Health Institute
San Francisco AIDS Foundation
Sinai Infectious Disease Center, Chicago
Southern AIDS Coalition
Tennessee Association of People With AIDS
Tennessee Community Outreach Initiative
Test Positive Aware Network, Chicago
The American Academy of HIV Medicine
The SERO Project
The Trevor Project
Treatment Action Group
University of Chicago Medicine

(If your organization would like to sign on, or to receive more information, please contact press@glaad.org)