Facebook rejected ads to raise awareness of PrEP, telling the New York medical provider Apicha Community Health Center that they weren't "authorized to run ads about social issues, elections or politics."
Apicha provides health services to communities in particular need, including Asians and Pacific Islanders (API), LGBTQ+ people, and people affected by HIV/AIDS. According to Vice, they've had ads rejected on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, for being too sexual, which they then successfully appealed. But now, for the first time, Facebook has told them that reducing the transmission of HIV is too political.
Apicha's campaign, which is funded by the New York State Department of Health, specifically targeted API men who have sex with men. The "Take Charge with PrEP" campaign, which features queer API artists discussing their health, has run with no difficulties on the @apichachc Instagram account. But the platform would not allow the nonprofit to promote the images and stories to reach new audiences.
The rejection comes in the same week that Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress, defending the company's policy that allows politicians to run ads that are not true.
"I just think that in a democracy people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying, and I think that people should make up their own minds about which candidates are credible and which candidates have the kind of character that they want to see in their elected officials," Zuckerberg said.
A group of Facebook employees reacted to Zuckerberg's testimony with a letter calling for the company to reform its ad policies. "Free speech and paid speech are not the same thing," the letter reads. "Our current policies on fact checking people in political office, or those running for office, are a threat to what FB stands for."
This is a particularly urgent time for vulnerable populations to learn about PrEP. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that Black and Latino men who have sex with men are less likely to be aware of their options for preventing HIV transmisison. According to researchers, those groups are less likely to discuss PrEP with health providers. More than 40 percent of people diagnosed with HIV in 2017 were Black, with just over a quarter Latino.
What's more, the CDC reports that between 2010 and 2016, the number of Asians receiving an HIV diagnosis increased by 42%. Asians make up 6% of the population and accounted for about 2% of HIV diagnoses in 2017 in the U.S.
After initially rejecting Apicha's campaign, Facebook offered to approve the ads if the organization connected its official Facebook page with the personal pages of every employee who accesses Apicha's social media accounts. It's unclear how that would address Facebook's objection to PrEP as "political."
What's more, Apicha can't connect all of its staffers to its page, because one of their employees uses as name on Facebook that is different from their government ID. For years, Facebook has pressured users to adhere to their government-approved names, even in the case of people who are transitioning or need to avoid contact from abusers.
"Social media platforms are the easiest way for us to reach [the communities we're trying to reach]," Miner told Vice. "To have social media platforms create these barriers when government entities have given us the resources to reach communities at risk is really hindering the national goal of ending the HIV epidemic."