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LGBTQ, HIV orgs call for Facebook to remove PrEP lawsuit ads

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An example of the ads that have been running on Facebook. (Graphic courtesy of GLAAD)

NEW YORK — A coalition of LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS organizations has called on Facebook to take down ads claiming inaccurate side effects of Truvada for PrEP.

A statement from the organizations said the ads were run by law firms, claiming problems like kidney disease and low bone density and that they were pushing people away from using the prevention method.

Last month, GLAAD contacted Facebook Advertising Policy about the misleading PrEP ads and was directed to third party fact checking agencies used by Facebook as arbiters of accuracy in ads. 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.”

The CDC has stated 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.

An open letter from the coalition states:

“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 contacted Facebook Advertising Policy about the misleading PrEP ads and was directed to third party fact checking agencies used by Facebook as arbiters of accuracy in ads. 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.”

“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,” said Peter Staley, a cofounder of the PrEP4All Collaboration. “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.”

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 Monday, December 9:

  • 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

The organizations are requesting:

  • Facebook and Instagram immediately remove the advertisements outlined above 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.

You can see the full letter here.

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