For months, Facebook has removed personal injury ads that contain misleading information about drugs designed to prevent the spread of HIV, the Washington Post reported, following an outcry from LGBTQ groups such as GLAAD. Encouraging people at risk of HIV infection to take these drugs is a key strategy in efforts to reduce the spread of the virus – so misinformation about the drug is particularly worrying. But for years, doctors and public health experts have worried about the risk of personal injury lawyers offering similar ads, but there has been no public outcry.
“These types of ads have been ignored for years,” said Liz Tippett, a professor of drug injury advertising at the University of Oregon School of Law. Lawyers have spent millions of dollars in advertising lawsuits claiming that people are harmed by drugs or medical device company products. These ads, which are usually shown on television, are a way to attract new customers. Advertising often uses tough language to highlight the potential harm or risk of a particular drug, which may affect consumer perceptions of a drug or medical device. Most ads don’t tell the audience to talk to a doctor, and some don’t reveal that the ads are sponsored by a lawyer.
In this case, the Facebook ads were produced by personal injury lawyers who sued pharmaceutical companies that make the drug PrEP (“Pre-exposure Prophylaxis”). The advertisement claims that the drug is harmful. Advocates warn that the ads keep patients away from preventive drugs, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers effective.
Studies have shown that these types of personal injury advertising make people more likely to think that a drug or medical device is at risk, and may make people less likely to decide to prescribe a particular drug. In 2017, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on advertising practices; in 2016, the American Medical Association called for ads to warn patients to talk to doctors about their concerns.
But patients have not been mobilized to address the problem before. “It’s very rare,” said Lars Noah, a law professor at the University of Florida. “Never before has an event like this, and the community of patient activists becomes alarmed. “This may be because, until now, advertising was not usually targeted at drugs that are important to public health, such as PrEP. “Drugs advertised for this are usually commercially available, but they have no high therapeutic value, ” he says. “
Tippett says the response to these ads also clearly looks at patient harm. “In the past, trying to do something about these ads was seen as an attempt to help pharmaceutical companies,” she said. This is the first truly obvious example of consumer support as a response. She said the ads’ facebook run raises other concerns that tv ads don’t have: they can target specific groups of people, which could increase their effectiveness. As on television, it is not clear in many cases that the ads are sponsored by lawyers. “Often, this information doesn’t contain enough information to help people activate the natural defense sifts for this information,” she says. “
Jesse King, an associate professor of marketing at Weber State University, says Facebook and other social media platforms are the next wave of ads for such drug harm. “I think lawyers have been trying for some time to figure out how to run these ads online,” he said. I hear their use is increasing. “
However, social media may also make it easier for communities to mobilize for these particular ads, Tippett said. “No matter who the sponsor is, you can trace it back, and Facebook has an advertising database. For TVs, these are not available. In some ways, there is more potential for responsibility because of written records. “
On social media, groups can also run anti-ads to counteract drug harm ads. She says research shows that anti-propaganda may help minimize or mitigate the impact of advertising on drug risk perceptions.
Noah said the backlash against the PrEP ad and the subsequent response did not necessarily indicate a shift in the way the platform, consumers and lawyers handled drug harm ads. This situation can be an anomaly: the lawyer’s ad targets an efficient drug and provokes a specially voiced community response. He is not optimistic that it will lead to widespread change. “But it would be great if that led to lawyers looking more closely at the entire category of drug advertising,” he said. “