Facebook under fire for refusing to remove ad campaign promoting PrEP as dangerous

52 LGBT+ advocacy groups have written an open letter to Facebook demanding the immediate removal of an ad campaign promoting PrEP as harmful.

A hand holding a bottle of Truvada. As part of an ad on Facebook, PrEP is being promoted as having negative side effects.

52 LGBT+ organisations are calling on Facebook for the removal of adverts claiming that PrEP usage has adverse and harmful side effects. 

The adverts link PrEP usage to bone disease and kidney disorder despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that “no serious side effects have been observed.” This ad campaign seems to have been started by personal injury lawyers and groups such as ‘Help for PReP & TDF Victims’. Since the adverts went up, it has been reported that they have been viewed “millions of times” in the last month. 

Speaking to The Washington Post, a worker at PrEP4All Collaboration, Peter Staley, said, “Almost immediately we started hearing reports from front-line PrEP prescribers, clinics and public health officials around the country, saying we’re beginning to hear from potential clients that they’re scared of trying Truvada because they’re seeing all these ads on their Facebook and Instagram feeds. We realized we had a major problem on our hands.”

52 leaders in LGBT+ advocacy and sexual health awareness have composed an open letter directed at Facebook. The document states, “The signers of this letter, including members of Facebook’s LGBTQ Network of Support, request that Facebook and Instagram remove the advertisements and also publicly address the misinformation that the platforms allowed to spread.”

Responding to the backlash, Facebook claims their third-party fact checkers have detected no falsities in the advertisements and it does not violate their ad policies. In October 2019, the social media platform rejected a PrEP awareness ad because the group behind the campaign was not “authorised to run ads about social issues, elections or politics.”

Speaking to The Hill, GLAAD’s communication director, Rich Ferraro, said that Facebook and its third-party fact checkers “have yet to provide any information about how or why they believe these ads are accurate. Over 50 experts on AIDS and public health have provided research studies and first-hand knowledge that PrEP is safe, effective, and should be used by people who want to protect against HIV transmission.”

The 52 organisations highlight that the chosen images and languages used in the Facebook advertisements perpetuate the stigmatisation around sexual health awareness. The open letter further states, “Immediate action must be taken by Facebook to ameliorate the harm which has already been caused to those who may be seeking preventative treatment against HIV.”

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