HIV Scotland recently launched a campaign to stop fake ‘herbal HIV cure’ posts on Facebook. For years, “reviews and recommendations” had plagued HIV Scotland’s Facebook – promoting these fake cures that sell for hundreds of pounds.

Within the Facebook and Instagram platforms, hundreds of posts, pages and groups exist promoting these ‘herbal cures’ – that appear to cure everything from diabetes, herpes and HIV.

Facebook’s content policy didn’t remove these posts – because the actual product isn’t in itself harmful. Products such as “cumin seed oil” and a “mix of herbs” aren’t on the face of it harmful.

We argued that by being sold a product that you are told will cure your HIV was harmful, as it could lead to someone stopping their treatment – which not only risks their health deteriorating but also risks onward transmission that HIV medication can prevent.

Facebook have now agreed to review their Community Standards and Content Policies to take in to account the harmful effects of these posts. It is our hope that we’ll see the end to fake ‘herbal cure’ adverts that prey on vulnerable people for their information and money, whilst harming their health.

Ultimately, effective HIV medication works by reducing the virus to such a level that it is undetectable. New medications are being approved for use regularly, to ensure that viral suppression is achievable for everyone.

We should be focussed on ensuring that everyone in the world has access to effective medications, and hopefully with the end of online ‘herbal HIV cure’ ads we’ll be able to have science-based conversations with communities across the world.

Staying Vigilant

In July 2020, Which? posted an article in which they detailed how easy it was to post and advertise false companies and products on social media. Their tips for remaining vigilant and how to spot a fake ad/service on social media are as follows:

1. Find out who posted it

Always look into whether an advertiser appears legitimate. Is it a limited company? Does it have a business address or contact details beyond a generic email? Is its website incomplete or lacking in detail?

2. Avoid anything with errors

If an ad has odd formatting, strange or poor-quality images, or spelling/grammar mistakes, don’t click on it. Preview the true URL You can see where a web link is heading without clicking it by hovering over it with your mouse. Avoid those that look dodgy – a long jumble of numbers or letters is a clear giveaway.

3. The claim game

Be wary of ads making eye-catching financial or health claims, from products that will supposedly reduce your risk of getting coronavirus to schemes that will help you get rich. Report it If you think you’ve seen a fake ad, report it using the tools provided by Facebook, Google and other platforms. You can also complain about online advertising to the Advertising Standards Authority.

Have you come across similar dangerous misinformation about fake 'HIV cures' online? Let us know.