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Editorials, Ethics, social media

Facebook rescinds Big Pharma’s special status

Until now, Big Pharma was free to have Facebook pages like everyone else, but with one exception. They could exclude comments. So Pharma could post content and partake in the powerhouse of link sharing that is Facebook, but they didn’t have to take any lumps. This special exemption was initially designed to prevent comments about off-label drug use. (Off-label meaning using a drug for any condition it does not have FDA approval). Pharma has very strict FDA imposed rules regarding off-label discussions.

But now that Pharma Facebook pages have to allow comments (like everyone else’s pages) someone could easily throw up a comment about an off-label use…this could be a well intentioned individual who was genuinely helped using the product off-label or a Pharma plant (off-label is a big chunk of business for many drugs).

I think Facebook is right and comments should be allowed. It’s social media, not a billboard. I have comments on my page for my book, The Preemie Primer, and comments on both my blogs. I don’t delete the few negative comments – malice speaks for itself. I am also genuinely interested in feedback from the readers of my blogs as well as the people who have done me the honor of “liking” my book on Facebook. Then again, I’m not a corporate Versailles complete with multimillion dollar salaries and corporate jets funded by people struggling to pay for my product.

Since we all know Pharma will be deleting negative comments on Facebook there is no reason why they can’t delete the off-label ones as well. The FDA should levy a social media tax to hire investigators to make sure Pharma is following the rules. Since the FDA can’t seem to prevent Pharma from breaking direct-to-consumer advertising rules, they will clearly need more help because Facebook is a way bigger playground.

Ultimately, I think Facebook is right. It’s social media and you get the benefit but you also have to deal with the bad that comes along for the ride. Without comments Pharma pages are just a bunch of virtual billboards and there is nothing social about that at all.

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