Facebook has begun deleting advertisements about tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF) medications such as Truvada which are used to treat and prevent HIV infection. The deletions are a response to public outcry which claimed the ads could lead to unnecessary HIV infections.
Facebook decided to start deleting the ads after an assessment by their third-party fact checker. The fact checker’s issue with the ads is that they misleadingly imply that the risks of side effects are the same for HIV-negative and HIV-positive individuals. The assessment notably cites a study which found that HIV-positive TDF patients are more likely to experience bone density loss or kidney damage than HIV-negative TDF patients who take it as a pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication. Studies have shown that taking PrEP medications daily can reduce the risk of acquiring HIV via sex by about 99%.
“After a review, our independent fact-checking partners have determined some of the ads in question mislead people about the effects of Truvada… we have rejected these ads and they can no longer run on Facebook,” said Facebook spokeswoman Devon Kearns.
GLAAD (formerly the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) led the public outcry against the ads. They sent an open letter to Facebook on December 9th, 2019 urging them to delete the misleading ads.
“By allowing these advertisements to persist on their platforms, Facebook and Instagram are convincing at-risk individuals to avoid PrEP, invariably leading to avoidable HIV infections. You are harming public health,” the letter read.
Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also urged Facebook to delete the ads, saying Facebook’s inaction might “have serious public health consequences.” Warren added, “Facebook needs to put the safety of its users above its own advertising profits.”
The decision to delete the advertisements led to praise from LGBT organizations.
“The removal of select ads is a strong first step given the findings of Facebook’s own fact-checking agency and the dozens of organizations that spoke out,” said GLAAD leader Sarah Kate Ellis, adding 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.”