Facebook has begun removing some false and misleading ads about HIV prevention drugs after a public outcry.
The tech giant had featured several posts from personal-injury attorneys claiming that the medication, which stops the virus from spreading, was linked to severe bone and kidney problems, reported The Washington Post.
Several studies have shown that the medication, known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), is safe and effective.
At first, Facebook refused to disable the ads, saying that they didn’t violate any policies.
But the tech company changed course after activists, health experts and politicians blasted it for potentially putting millions of people’s lives at risk.
Ads from personal-injury attorneys claimed that the medication, often sold as Truvada (pictured), which stops the virus from spreading, was linked to severe bone and kidney problems
In the US, more than 1.1 million people are infected with HIV, the virus that leads to the potentially deadly disease AIDS. Nearly 40,000 new infections are diagnosed every year.
Once a person contracts HIV, the virus sets about attacking and destroying immune cells that normally protect the body from infection.
In the last decade, doctors have gained a much improved understanding of how to control HIV.
The rate of deaths from the disease has plummeted since the peak of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s.
One way to stop HIV transmission among men who have sex with men, those who inject drugs and heterosexual men and women with an HIV-positive partner.
PrEP users take a pill every day. The pill – sold under the brand name Truvada – contains two medications, which help prevent HIV from establishing permanent infection.
A 2018 study found that around 1.2 million people are eligible for PrEP, but only about 100,000 people were taking the medication.
About three months ago, ads began appearing on Facebook that were purchased by attorneys suing the drug manufacturers, The Washington Post reported.
Their clients claimed they were harmed by PrEP pills, particularly suffering severe bone and kidney damage.
But LGBTQ activists said the problem was that many of the cases were among people taking the pills as a treatment, not as a preventive.
They argued that the ads could scare people away from using the pills, despite several studies confirming that they are safe.
Activists even pointed to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says PrEP is ‘highly effective’ and ‘recommended’ for those at high risk of infection.
Facebook declined to remove the ads, saying the claims needed to be submitted to review by the company’s third-party fact-checkers, reported The Washington Post.
When the fact-checkers didn’t reply, more than 50 LGBTQ organizations wrote an open letter, criticizing Facebook’s lack of action.
According to the Washington Post, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) called on Facebook to take down the ads.
Finally, on Friday, the third-party fact-checkers contacted the activists and said they found that ads to be ‘misleading.’
Facebook spokeswoman Devon Kearns told The Washington Post on Sunday that some of the ads had been disabled.
‘After a review, our independent fact-checking partners have determined some of the ads in question mislead people about the effects of Truvada,’ she said.
‘As a result we have rejected these ads and they can no longer run on Facebook.’
Not all the ads have been disabled and some can still be seen in Facebook’s public ad archive, but the company says it’s still reviewing many of the PrEp ads, reported The Washington Post.