Facebook Pulls Some Bogus Anti-PrEP Ads; Advocates Remain Wary

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is under pressure to continue rooting out misleading HIV prevention advertisements from his social media platform.
FACEBOOK/ MARK ZUCKERBERG

Weeks after LGBTQ and HIV/ AIDS advocates tore into Facebook for running advertisements they said promoted misleading warnings about HIV prevention medication, the social media platform pulled some of the ads in question — but not all of them.

The controversy emerged when attorneys started placing ads playing up potential side effects of PrEP, despite studies showing that the medication is safe. The ads fueled strong blowback from members of Congress, LGBTQ advocacy groups, and HIV/ AIDS activists who wrote to Facebook expressing worry that the messages could thwart at-risk individuals from beginning or continuing to use HIV prevention medication. Use of PrEP, especially by men sexually active with other men, is viewed as critical to the drive to end AIDS as an epidemic.

After first opting to keep the ads, Facebook confirmed to Gay City News that the company ultimately decided to remove certain ads.

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

But it is not clear which ads were removed or which ones remain — and it is also unclear which attorneys were pushing the ads, leaving major gaps in understanding how the controversy was fueled in the first place. Facebook did not immediately respond to a follow-up question asking for clarification on which ads they referred to when they said “some of the ads in question.”

Science Feedback, which is Facebook’s independent fact-checking agency, and the PrEP4All Collaboration, which works to improve access to PrEP, also did not respond to questions about which ads remained or were removed. Nor was light shed on what law firms were pushing the ads.

After Facebook started removing ads, advocates made it clear they would not be satisfied until all problematic ads are gone.

“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,” Peter Staley, a cofounder of the PrEP4All Collaboration, said in a written statement. “But the question remains — why is Facebook taking money from these ambulance-chasing law firms for ads that are helping the spread of HIV?”

Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, agreed, saying “the time is now” for Facebook to finish its job and take down the misleading ads as soon as possible.

“Dozens of organizations have told Facebook that the safety and effectiveness of PrEP to prevent HIV transmission is unequivocal,” Ellis said. “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.”

Facebook claims to be in close contact with LGBTQ groups and is planning to issue a more formal response to advocates in the coming days. The company vows to review the remaining ads in question.

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