Social media playing “whack the mole” with illegal drug marketing

KEY TAKEAWAY: According to Business Insider “the inability of giant Internet companies to keep illegal drug sellers off their sites shows that it’s not just fake news , hate speech, violent videos and foreign political propaganda that are overwhelming their content-filtering systems”. Another reason to avoid social media for pharma?

Searching on Facebook for the names of some of the most commonly prescribed pain medications pointed to multiple vendors selling Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Percocet and other similar drugs. For example, if you type in the name of various opiates followed by the phrase “for sell,” you can find information that won’t be revealed by typing in “for sale” instead.

These posts can evade detection on Facebook for months. For example, we conducted a search on November 13 for “Oxycodone 30 mg for sell.” The results included a Facebook post dated Sept. 9, which was still online.  When CNBC notified Facebook of these posts, the company said it would remove them. However, 12 hours later, many similar posts were still available.

Facebook is not alone in providing unwitting marketing space for opioids. For example, a similarly simple search found videos advertising opioids on YouTube, a unit of Facebook-rival Alphabet. For instance, this video selling Oxycodone was uploaded to YouTube six months ago and still showed up on Nov. 13.

Several hours after CNBC sent YouTube the first video, it still appeared on the site. And, in a fitting bit of irony, the YouTube search algorithm was so good that after this reporter typed in dozens of different strings in the course of researching this story, the search box started suggesting different pill doses and vendors selling similar drugs.

In both cases, it appears these companies are playing a game of “whack a mole” when it comes to illegal drug marketing, taking content down after discovering it, rather than effectively stopping that content from being posted in the first place.

So it seems that social media can’t police itself and its reader beware.  Is it any different when it comes to prescription drugs?

Pharma companies have an opportunity here, again, to help clear the jungle of misinformation. But in order to accomplish that the organization has to think digital first . This means thinking digital not just converting off line materials into web content. Patients need help and want help understanding, treatment options, but pharma websites alone are not doing the job.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *