Internet advocate slams pharma's social media moves

As pharma messages flood social media sites, an advocate for transparency on the web says that drugmakers and regulators haven't gone far enough to make sure that patients understand what they're looking at while online, NPR reported in a story premised on the industry's growing interest in online communities for patients with diabetes.

Diabetes, the world's fast-growing epidemic, is one of the key areas of growth for the pharma industry, and companies have been vying for the attention of patients with online and social media overtures. Industry seldom goes with a straight product plug on social media platforms and often supports blogs and other content that provide tips and other information about the metabolic disease. In some cases, as NPR notes, industry pays the bloggers, all in compliance with regulations and done with proper disclosures, everything on the up-and-up.

Not so fast, one critic says.  

"People do not read disclosures. The FDA and [Federal Trade Commission] need to create a whole new system for disclosing when a blogger or group gets paid by pharmaceutical companies," Jeff Chester of the nonprofit Center for Digital Democracy, said, as quoted by NPR. "Because you might find on a pharmaceutical website a series of videos that have been tested, by the way, to make sure that they really deliver the message, and these messages, testimonials, appear to be people like you. Although sometimes they are, in fact, paid or allied with a drug company."

Call it the land of confusion. Many rules of the road for pharma on social media haven't been established as the FDA remains at work on definitive guidelines. However, Sanofi ($SNY), Roche ($RHHBY) and Bayer HealthCare have learned to navigate the social web and reach patients with diabetes under the current system of scant regulatory certainty.

And at least one industry-paid blogger with diabetes appears to disagree with Chester's criticism. "If we see someone swooping in with their chocolate shake that cures Type 1 diabetes, there's going to be a voice raised saying, 'Wait, wait, wait, that's not true!' Or, 'Don't come in and spam our community,' " patient-blogger Kerri Sparling told NPR. "We protect ourselves in that way."

- check out NPR's article