Facebook Is Finally Removing Some—But Not All—Misleading Preventive HIV Drug Ads

Taken daily, Truvada can greatly reduce the chances of someone contracting HIV.
Photo: Getty

Following pressure from dozens of LGBTQ groups, Facebook is finally pulling down some ads linking the HIV prevention drug Truvada to serious complications like bone and kidney damage—ads these groups have called false or misleading.

In early December, 50 LGBTQ-affliated groups such as GLAAD issued an open letter to Facebook asking them to remove the ads, after more quiet attempts to convince the social media giant to do so had failed. The ads, which had been circulating for months, were placed by several legal firms looking to solicit clients for potential class action lawsuits against the manufacturers of Truvada, the first drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) of the HIV-1 virus (a second PrEP drug was approved this October).

At least one website the ads led consumers to claimed that Truvada “could cause an increased risk of bone density problems and kidney failure.” But these sorts of claims, the letter and other experts have argued, are largely inaccurate or misrepresentative of the scientific evidence.

Some studies have linked a small increased risk of kidney and bone damage to one of the two drugs used in Truvada, called tenofovir disoproxil. But these studies have involved people taking tenofovir as a treatment for their existing HIV infection, not as a preventative medication.

Other studies looking at PrEP users specifically have found little to no evidence for these effects. Yet despite the lack of any real proof, the ads were already starting to scare people away from trying out PrEP, according to the letter.

“Leading public health officials, medical professionals, and dedicated PrEP navigators and outreach coordinators have shared that these advertisements on Facebook and Instagram are being directly cited by at-risk community members expressing heightened fears about taking PrEP,” it noted.

On Monday, the Washington Post reported confirmation from Facebook that it was starting to pull down Truvada-related ads.

“After a review, our independent fact-checking partners have determined some of the ads in question mislead people about the effects of Truvada,” Facebook spokeswoman Devon Kearns told the Post. “As a result we have rejected these ads and they can no longer run on Facebook.”

While critics offered some praise to Facebook for following through, they also pointed out that many more similar ads still remain up. And given how long it took for Facebook to react to their months of protest, they’re not too expecting . this to stop the spread of misinformation surrounding PrEP anytime soon.

“If this is their official response, after ignoring us for months, then it’s a mess,” Peter Staley, a long-time HIV/AIDS activist and one of the co-founders of the PrEP4All Collaboration, a organization aiming to cut down the costs of PrEP, told the Post.

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