In December of 2019, Facebook announced that it had removed ads with misleading information about HIV-prevention drugs. Activists, health experts, and US lawmakers had argued that these ads were deterring the LGBTQ+ community from using treatments that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarded as highly effective. Sarah Kate Ellis, the president of GLAAD, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, “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.” As Reuters reported, more than 50 LGBT+, HIV/AIDS, and public health organizations urged Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to remove all ads that included misleading information about HIV prevention.
Matthew Lavietes reported that the ads in question falsely linked severe bone and kidney damage to the use of the drug. Peter Staley, Cofounder of PREP4All, is quoted as saying, “The question remains—why is Facebook taking money from these ambulance-chasing law firms for ads that are helping the spread of HIV?”
Although some establishment media outlets have mentioned this story, their coverage has failed to highlight the fact that the ads had been circulating Facebook for months, gaining millions of views, and that Facebook only removed select ads. The BBC, Washington Post, and ABC News reported that Facebook had reviewed and removed the misleading advertisements following intense lobbying from LGBTQ advocacy groups. However, these reports may have misled people to believe that Facebook had taken down all of the inaccurate ads, when in reality it had not do. As Ellis, the GLAAD president, noted, “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.”
Source: Matthew Lavietes, “Facebook Removes Misleading HIV Drug Ads after Outcry,” Thomson Reuters Foundation, December 30, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/usa-lgbt-health/facebook-removes-misleading-hiv-drug-ads-after-outcry-idUSL1N2940JU
Student Researchers: Jacqueline Archie, Carol McCormick, Alexa Mirageas, and Maia Sutton (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)