FDA Censures Company for 'Liking' Unapproved Claim on Facebook
| Posted: 26 February 2013
By Alexander Gaffney, RF News Editor
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't like it when a company "likes" an unapproved claim regarding its product on Facebook, according to a recent Warning Letter sent to supplement marketer AMARC Enterprises.
In an 11 December 2012 Warning Letter to the company, a marketer of a drug product called Poly-MVA, FDA cites a laundry list of claims made by the company about the product, marketed mostly through the use of testimonials about the product.
One example, still found on the company's website, is a testimonial from a Mr. Doug Wray, whose account seems to indicate that by taking Poly-MVA, he was cured of his multiple myeloma.
More than a dozen other testimonials made by the company cover similar stories and for a range of different other types of cancer, including uterine cancer, bladder cancer, osteosarcoma, colon cancer, brain tumors, lung cancer and others.
FDA's letter comes down hard on these testimonials, explaining that without having obtained FDA approval, the products the testimonials represent are not recognized as either safe or effective, and are therefore improperly marketed as unapproved drugs. FDA also noted that AMARC was marketing the product as a veterinary product, also in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act).
FDA Does Not ‘Like’ This Post
But FDA also made one extremely unusual mention—Focus is unable to find evidence of another—of a company's Facebook "like" of an unapproved claim.
Facebook, a social media website on which users can post a comment, story or other media, allows users to express their approval or recognition of a story by clicking a "Like" button, shown in the form of a thumbs-up icon.
It has long been a matter of speculation in the social media world of whether a "like"—or on Twitter, a "re-tweet"—represents an endorsement of the content, or just a passive-but-friendly recognition of that content.
In the AMARC warning letter, FDA comes down strongly on the former interpretation.
"We also note claims made on your Facebook account," FDA explains. "The following are examples of the claims: In a March 10, 2011 post which was “liked” by “Poly Mva”:
“PolyMVA has done wonders for me. I take it intravenously 2x a week and it has helped me tremendously. It enabled me to keep cancer at bay without the use of chemo and radiation…Thank you AMARC”
That post has since been taken down, but FDA's interpretation that a "Like" implies endorsement could be a precedent-setting action by an agency that has been slow to issue a formal social media policy.
Such a policy might also extend to other social media venues as well, such as Twitter, where users can "favorite" or "re-tweet" a post and Google+, where users can "+1" a post.