U.S. FDA Enforcement of Social Media Sites

FDA has become more and more proactive in its effort to identify and respond to claims made on social media accounts. And one way they’re doing it is by regulating the “like” button. Companies have come under fire from the FDA over “liking” consumers’ therapeutic claims on its products. One Facebook post by a consumer had commented that a company’s product had cured an infection the consumer had been battling. When the company “liked” the comment made by the consumer, FDA launched a warning letter. FDA has defined the “like” button as a means to agree or approve of a posts’ topic. In the case of the consumers post, the company’s “like” was an endorsement or promotion of the claim made about the product.

Evidently, the FDA has increased its presence in regulating social media sites. The FDA recognizes the sophisticated nature of social media sites; that communication between consumers and companies has become much more interactive and readily available through social media. The FDA is attempting to expand its regulations into what is previously a grey area, with little guidelines or direction. It seems as though the FDA is watching for Facebook “likes” and other misleading claims. Unfortunately, the FDA has yet to explicitly define guidelines for Facebook or Twitter. The FDA appears to use the strategy of taking each issue case by case. The FDA has expressed views on Facebook’s “like” function, but Twitter’s “favourite” button, having similar purpose to Facebook’s “like” button, has yet to be defined by the FDA. FDA has also become more active in regulating tweets. Some practices by companies have come into the crosshairs of the FDA as their posts have been deemed by the FDA as false claims.

Interestingly, another area of the internet becoming more problematic lies in company websites. Back in early 2013, FDA sent a warning letter to a company for their website’s search engine. It seemed that when using specific disease names as keywords, the engine would show related results for intended products. These were seen by the FDA as “implying that its products are intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of such diseases.” The FDA’s warning letter stated that the product, due to it being highlighted in the search field when searching key words like specific disease names, and not demonstrating it is generally regarded as safe and effective for the above reference, is considered a “new drug” due to the health claims. This highlights the increased push by the FDA to better observe and monitor company social media practices. The FDA has increased its surveillance, but in the internet’s ever expanding realm, does the FDA have the resources to cover all corners of the web?