Social media influencers have become the latest source of health information for many, especially now during the ongoing and rapidly-evolving COVID-19 pandemic. That information, however, is not always accurate. In this article, we explain how the FDA and the FTC regulate social media with respect to healthcare, present case studies demonstrating the drawbacks and (sometimes) dangers of influencer advertising, and propose additional measures that the FDA should implement to protect the public.
Social media influencers have become the latest source of health information for many. This is especially true right now, amidst the ongoing and rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic. More and more influencers are being tapped to spread the word about public health campaigns, wellness goods and services, prescription drugs, and medical devices. Because these promotions and unsolicited advertisements are rampant, they deserve the close attention of not only consumers, but also our government.
Influencers have advertised a variety of health information, including flu shots at Walgreens, ovulation tracking devices, and drugs such as Celgene and AbbVie. But not all of the information they disseminate is accurate (or even close). And recently, certain celebrities have been spreading misinformation about the coronavirus: an Instagram post from Woody Harrelson (which has since been deleted) detailing the discredited theory that 5G transmission towers have contributed to the spread of COVID-19;1 an Instagram story from Chris Brown with a hoax audio file stating that the United States would soon be entering a mandatory, month-long quarantine period where people would not be allowed to leave their