Facebook has started pulling ads that misleadingly suggested HIV-prevention medications like Truvada could cause kidney or bone damage. The Washington Post, which first reported the ads, says activists, regulators, and health experts have all dismissed the claims and argued that by running the ads Facebook could create a public health crisis.
The controversial ads were paid for by pages linked to personal injury lawyers, some of whom are suing drug makers, claiming their clients were harmed by the medication. The Post says the ads have nonetheless been seen “millions of times,” adding that despite initially opting to allow the ads, last Friday the social media company began quietly limiting their visibility or reclassifying them retroactively.
Maybe too little, definitely too late — Though it’s pleasing to see Facebook take any action against false ads given its lack of propensity to do so generally, activists argue they’ve been trying to get this particular set of ads removed since September, and that some of them had already stopped running by the time the company acted last week.
Further, many critics remain unsatisfied with Facebook’s response. In some instances, the company is only labeling ads as misleading rather than removing them, and it’s been vague about how it’ll police similar content in the future.
Also, in typical Facebook fashion, it’s outsourced the fact-checking of the ads to a third party — in this instance, not-for-profit Science Feedback — rather than taking responsibility for the vetting itself. All of which suggest false advertising is going to remain a problem on Facebook for a long time to come. Because heaven forbid it should act like a media company and exercise even a modicum of editorial judgment.