FDA Cracks Down on Promotional Claims Made on Facebook

In this day and age nearly everyone has a Facebook page, including companies which often use Facebook pages to promote their products and services. Given that Facebook is quite an informal marketing medium, companies may not always scrutinize everything they post as highly as they would more organized or targeted media. But that doesn’t mean the Food and Drug Administration isn’t scrutinizing every wall post and status update.

On March 12, 2014, the FDA posted an untitled letter to a Switzerland-based international drug maker, noting that it had made misleading and/or misbranding claims about a thyroid drug it manufactures on its Facebook page. Among other things, the FDA noted the drug maker had made promotional claims about the efficacy of the drug without including risk information regarding its use. In addition, the FDA noted the company failed to include with its promotional materials and statements material information regarding a limitation on the use of the drug. Although the FDA’s letter did not appear to require that the drug maker remove the Facebook page, it appears to have been disabled.

Of note, the FDA has previously included claims made on Facebook or other social media platforms along with broader allegations of drug misbranding in enforcement letters. It has even faulted companies’ activity “liking” or “sharing” other Facebook posts that allegedly misbranded drugs. The FDA’s crackdown on this drug maker’s Facebook activity could be an offshoot of its December 2013 publication of draft guidance on social media, which provides recommendations on whether and how drug manufacturers should submit certain promotional material on social media to the FDA at the time of the material’s first use (though the FDA’s letter did not indicate whether the drug maker had ever submitted its Facebook material).

As a practical matter, the FDA’s letter to the drug maker indicates it may indeed be scrutinizing claims made about products on Facebook and other social media — particularly claims about pharmaceuticals. Thus, makers of all types of products regulated by the FDA ought to ensure that they too are abiding by FDA marketing guidelines, even in the context of such informal media as social networking websites. Further, it is not too distant a possibility that other regulatory agencies could similarly be examining claims about products and services made on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media websites. Companies should therefore keep in mind any and all applicable regulations when using them.

To read the FDA’s draft guidance on marketing through social media, click here.