Gilead, LGBTQ community ask Facebook to remove misleading PrEP ads

Facebook has vowed to rein in third party apps in response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal (Image luchezar / iStockPhoto)
LGBTQ organizations, public health groups and politicians are calling on Facebook to remove misleading PrEP ads. (luchezar/iStockPhoto)

Facebook’s ad policy has been under fire lately, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community is the latest to take aim. More than 50 organizations involved with LGBTQ advocacy, public health and HIV/AIDS prevention have co-signed a letter to Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking him to take down “dangerous and misleading” ads on Facebook and Instagram. By not doing anything, the social media companies are harming public health, the groups contend.

Gilead, which makes HIV prevention drugs Truvada and Descovy, agrees with the effort and applauds the organizations standing up for their communities, it said. “We join calls to have any misleading advertisements related to Gilead’s HIV medications removed from Facebook," it added in a statement.

At issue are law firm ads that suggest there are negative health effects related to taking Gilead's Truvada to reduce the risk of contracting HIV, or as a pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). In the ads, the law firms ask gay and bisexual men to join a lawsuit claiming the drug has had harmful side effects.

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The LGBTQ group says the ads are not only misinformation but also “put real people’s lives in imminent danger” by creating a chilling effect, making people afraid to take Truvada for PrEP. It's asking for the ad to be removed and also for Facebook—and Instagram, which it owns—to address the misinformation that has already spread.

Amy Flood, Gilead’s senior vice president of public affairs, stood up for the groups and Truvada in the email to FiercePharma.

“We’re pleased to see GLAAD and other leading organizations advocating for communities who are disproportionately impacted by the HIV epidemic. Gilead’s TDF medications, including TRUVADA for PrEP, are safe and effective for use in accordance with the FDA-approved prescribing information for those medications,” she said.

The letter to Facebook noted that public health officials, doctors and dedicated PrEP outreach professionals have said the ads on Facebook and Instagram are being cited directly by at-risk community members expressing fear about taking PrEP. They’re pushing Zuckerberg to make good on his promise made during public testimony with the House Financial Services Committee in October when he said, “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.”

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LGBTQ groups and Gilead aren’t the only ones demanding action. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren addressed the issue on Twitter, pointing out that Facebook allowing misleading and false ads could have “serious public health consequences” and asking the company to put the safety of users over profits.