Facebook Faces Criticism For Labeling Health Ads As Political

Facebook Faces Criticism For Labeling Health Ads As Political

Facebook is under fire for the designation of an HIV prevention drug classified ad as being political advertising.

New York health center Apicha helps in the LGBTQ community, and it said the tech giant first blocked its ads from running on Instagram. The ads were to raise awareness of the FDA-approved anti-HIV medication PrEP Truvada.

According to Apicha, its ads featured both trans and queer Pacific Islander artists talking about the benefits of PrEP. They were supposed to be in conjunction with PrEP Aware Week - a program the New York State Department of Health brought forth to encourage more people to use it, especially people in the LGBTQ and POC communities.

However, Instagram required ads to go through a verification process to determine the advertising and source of the funding.

Apicha employees have been left confused about the decision, saying they’ve been running health ads for many years with no issues. Apicha Director of Grants and Communication Phillip Miner said Facebook ads promoting PrEP for women have had no issues of the like.

However, Facebook, which bought Instagram in 2012, created a confirmation process for political advertisers with a broad definition of what was and was not political. Facebook made the change to keep a repeat of Russian’s interference with the election campaign, which used its platform to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

These rules have been applied to ads not political in nature but being classified as such.

For instance, Truvada manufacturer Gilead said it puts its efforts into promoting sexual health and decreasing the rate of new HIV infections using innovative solutions. Gilead expressed its outrage at the actions Facebook took, saying the efforts Gilead was making to raise PrEP awareness was undermined because it limited the reach its campaigns had.

According to Facebook, any ad advocating a social issue is regarded as a political ad such as crime, education and health.

Miner said he talked with Facebook employees and believes the ads were deemed political because of the health aspect behind them. He said when a person posts a health-related ad, it’ll be considered a political one.

However, it’s an even more complex situation, as Facebooks’ own rules state political health ads that advocate, debate or discuss for or against something such as healthcare access and healthcare reform. Therefore, if an ad were to say it was fighting for everybody in the community to have healthcare families deserve, then that ad is said to be political.

Facebook’s own rule would mean statements about gay men being able to access PrEP are political.

A Facebook spokesperson said ads are allowed to promote healthcare services, but additional steps must be made before it can run if they’re advocating for or against some social issues such as equal health care access. The spokesperson said these topics were subjects of abuse in 2016, and while the company doesn’t want to create obstacles for individuals, it does want to improve its transparency to ensure elections are better protected on the social media platform.

Milner said the ads were currently running on Instagram.

Written by Mark Riegel, MD

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