Facebook, Instagram filled with misinformation about HIV prevention drugs, advocates allege

LGBTQ advocates want the social media sites to remove "inaccurate" ads.

Queenie Wong Former Senior Writer
Queenie Wong was a senior writer for CNET News, focusing on social media companies including Facebook's parent company Meta, Twitter and TikTok. Before joining CNET, she worked for The Mercury News in San Jose and the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. A native of Southern California, she took her first journalism class in middle school.
Expertise I've been writing about social media since 2015 but have previously covered politics, crime and education. I also have a degree in studio art. Credentials
  • 2022 Eddie award for consumer analysis
Queenie Wong
2 min read

Facebook and Instagram logos.

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Facebook and Instagram are "harming public health" by allowing advertisers to target users with ads that contain misinformation about a drug meant to prevent HIV, according to allegations by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer advocates in a letter sent to Facebook on Monday.

The letter, which was signed by 52 health groups and LGBTQ organizations and addressed to CEO Mark Zuckerberg , states that the groups contacted Facebook about their concerns but that the company hasn't pulled down these ads. Lawyers are purchasing these ads in an effort to get LGBTQ users to join lawsuits that allege the HIV prevention pill Truvada increased the risk of bone and kidney problems. A search of Facebook's online ads database confirms these type of ads are running on the site.

The letter illustrates how the world's largest social network, which owns photo app Instagram, continues to face complaints it's harming public health. Facebook has also been accused before, for example, of not doing enough to combat misleading information about vaccines, prompting the company to remove recommendations for that type of content. 

Citing the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the groups note that taking preventative HIV drugs like Truvada, known as PrEP, are effective. 

"By allowing these advertisements to persist on their platforms, Facebook and Instagram are convincing at-risk individuals to avoid PrEP, invariably leading to avoidable HIV infections. You are harming public health," according to the letter, which was posted online by the LGBTQ group GLAAD. Other organizations that signed the letter include AIDS United, the Human Rights Campaign and The Trevor Project. 

Facebook bars ads that are debunked by third-party fact-checkers or in certain cases "claims debunked by organizations with certain expertise," according to its ads policies. The groups are asking Facebook to clarify how they're interpreting these policies and potentially change them. 

A Facebook spokeswoman said that the ads don't violate the company's rules but that the company is working with these groups.

"We value our work with LGBTQ groups and constantly seek their input," the spokeswoman said. "While these ads do not violate our ad policies nor have they been rated false by third-party fact-checkers, we're always examining ways to improve and help these key groups better understand how we apply our policies."

The ads about HIV prevention drugs are also sparking concerns from politicians, including Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

"The ads are unwarranted and unacceptable, and Facebook should remove them immediately," Cuomo said in a statement on Tuesday.

Originally published Dec. 9
Update, Dec. 10: Adds statement from Cuomo and Warren. 

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