Facebook’s internal motto used to be “move fast and break things.”
This weekend, Facebook began removing a series of dangerous ads from the platform that targeted LGBTQ people and spread misleading information about HIV prevention drugs. It took more than three months for them to do so.
The ads in question originated with a number of law firms and pushed falsehoods about the side effects of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) drugs like Truvada, which greatly reduce the risk of getting HIV. In particular, they falsely claimed HIV negative people taking the drugs were at risk of bone density and kidney issues.
Many of the ads, run by pages like “Truvada Compensation Center” and “Truvada Side Effects,” urged readers to contact the law firms for an evaluation for possible compensation.
Mathew Lasky, the communications director for the LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD, told HuffPost that the organization informed Facebook about the ads in mid-September.
After a month of inaction from Facebook itself, GLAAD flagged the ads to five of Facebook’s six fact checking groups in mid-November. Lasky said they did not alert Facebook’s sixth official fact checking group because it’s The Daily Caller, which he described as “a virulently anti-LGBTQ” news site.
On Dec. 9, the group published an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg signed by 50 LGBTQ, HIV/AIDS and public health organizations urging Facebook remove the ads:
“The law firms’ advertisements are scaring away at-risk HIV negative people from the leading drug that blocks HIV infections,” the letter warned. “This issue goes beyond misinformation, as it puts real people’s lives in imminent danger.”
Lasky said they were told last Friday ― more than three months after reporting the ads to Facebook ― that one of the fact checking agencies they contacted, Science Feedback, concluded some of the ads were indeed misleading and would be removed. (Read the fact-check here.)
“After a review, our independent fact checking partners have determined some of the ads in question mislead people about the effects of Truvada,” a Facebook spokesperson told HuffPost in a statement. “As a result we have rejected these ads and they can no longer run on Facebook.”
Despite promising to remove the sponsored posts, GLAAD said Monday a search of Facebook’s products nevertheless turned up “many other similar ads.” And a Washington Post investigation found many of the ads in question had actually stopped running by the time Facebook decided to take action.
Notably, Facebook took down a pro-PrEP ad a community health center tried to run earlier this year, because the health center wasn’t “authorized to run ads about social issues, elections or politics.”
“It’s gratifying to see one of Facebook’s fact-checkers backing up the overwhelming consensus of AIDS, LGBTQ, and HIV medical groups that these ads are misleading,” Peter Staley, a co-founder of the PrEP4All Collaboration, which co-signed the letter, said in a statement Monday.
“But the question remains – why is Facebook taking money from these ambulance-chasing law firms for ads that are helping the spread of HIV?”