Facebook No Longer Blocking Comments for (Most) Pharmaceutical Pages

In a move that makes sense when you look at it big-picture — which Facebook does — the company has decided that Page owners can no longer apply to have commenting removed from Pages. It used to allow some Page owners, notably pharmaceutical and financial firms, to do so in order to more easily avoid regulatory issues. It’s not completely clear why the change is happening now.

Facebook sent out an email to select pharmaceutical Page owners last week, that first highlighted that Pages are intended to be a place for “authentic, engaging, two-way dialog,” before explaining the changes. From the email, republished by pharmaceutical marketing firm Intouch Solutions:

Previously, pharmaceutical brands could submit a request through their Facebook Sales Representative to disable commenting on their Facebook Page. Starting today, Facebook will no longer allow admins of new pharma Pages to disable commenting on the content their Page shares with people on Facebook. Pages that currently have commenting disabled will no longer have this entitlement after August 15th.

While the change won’t affect most Page owners, some pharmaceutical brands may decide to at least temporarily close their Pages — especially Pages with generic themes, like ADHD Allies, which is sponsored by McNeil Pediatrics, a Division of Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. These advertorial, cause-themed Pages might convince people to think they’re supporting a cause, when they’re actually giving drug companies full control over what discussion happens on the Page.

The core reason these companies say they want to cut off comments is that the US Food and Drug Administration requires them to report any “adverse events” relating to their products — a way for the agency to educate itself and the public about issues with approved drugs. However, the reporting requirement has not yet been modified for social media, as it’s still under discussion at the FDA. In the meantime, companies don’t know what types of comments they’ll need to report to the FDA from Facebook users. All comments? Only specific, negative ones? This unknown could be why, up until this point, Facebook gave them a pass on the issue by allowing them to disable comments.

But why did Facebook make the change now? That’s not entirely clear. Maybe Facebook felt that too many drug companies were creating and controlling Pages about generic themes — that’s not unlikely, considering previous reports of that issue, as well as Facebook’s overall tone towards the industry. While a given company might benefit from Astroturfing its product into the market, Facebook as a whole suffers due to the resulting mistrust among users.

Or, maybe Facebook doesn’t want to try to enforce others’ rules — which is a direction it has gone with other terms recently. It just removed a blanket ban on promotions for a variety of content categories, including prescription drugs, and instead told marketers to follow its other guidelines and all other laws on their own.

Another possibility is that Facebook has some idea of what might be coming from the FDA on the matter.

Or, perhaps it feels that there are a satisfactory number of other options for these companies at present, regardless of this particular restriction.

Also, in the email, Facebook says that “Subject to [its] approval, branded Pages solely dedicated to a prescription drug may (continue to) have commenting functionality removed.” So, some Pages can still run without comments. It’s just really obvious in these cases that users are there to discuss a specific drug, and not a disease or a company.

Pharmaceutical companies have been trying to use Facebook for years, but their concern around the requirement has made them especially cautious, and many of their campaigns over the years have come across as canned or stilted, or otherwise unsocial. But as the Intouch blog points out, they can still take approaches with their Pages that allow them to reach users without running afoul of Facebook or the FDA. They can still block users from posting to their Page’s Wall or otherwise creating and adding their own content (it’s just comments on Page-created content that can no longer be blocked). Companies can also install a third-party application that provides forum-style functionality, that separately provides an interface for moderating user comments. Or they can provide a full-time monitoring team to handle Pages with comments enabled.

We’ll be covering this issue as Facebook and the government continue to evolve their policies.

For deep analysis of Facebook’s terms, as well as weekly profiles of innovative marketing campaigns, visit the Facebook Marketing Bible, Inside Network’s comprehensive guide to marketing through Facebook.