Klick Health

Limits to links: interpreting the FDA’s Like ruling

Senior Director, Social Media

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Buried in a letter to a food supplement company in December, 2012 was a small insight into the FDA’s approach to social media: a Pharma property is responsible for information to which it links. This hit the mainstream news at the end of February (and was in the March 4 issue of the Klick Wire). If you want the summary learning from this letter, it is this: don’t link to things that you can’t put on your own property.

This precedent has been well established in traditional digital circles for years. Pharma-owned websites don’t link to other sites unless they approve of the content and are assured that it won’t be changed to become non-compliant. Also, all links from Pharma websites have an interstitial that alerts the user that he or she is leaving the Pharma site and is “on their own.”

Summary of the issue

All of the sites that have weighed in on the issue so far have made the same arguments, namely that a “like” on Facebook links that content with the pharma property and they will look at that content through the lens of DTC promotion. The places that have weighed in on this:

So, yes, the FDA expects a promotional Pharma property to only link to compliant material. And no, a patient testimonial that claims a nutritional suppliment will cure cancer is not appropriate material for a Pharma property to endorse. I don’t think anyone is particularly surprised about this.

Related issues

Now, let’s extend this argument a little, because when we look at related social activities the issues aren’t quite as cut-and-dried.

Mentions on Facebook

When one social property mentions another by name it generally creates a link to that other property. For example, when you mention another user by name on Facebook you can link to their profile. In this example we have linked to the Klick Health page:

Example of linking to another Facebook page from my demo page for "Demotrol"

When linking to another profile you become responsible for anything published on that profile, so be careful who you mention. Note that just typing a name doesn’t create the link, you have to explicitly choose to link to the other profile.

Best Practice

Only link to known partners with whom you have an agreement. Also, if you want to link to a particular post, link directly to the post, not to the full stream.

Mentions and Favorites on Twitter

It is probably pretty obvious that a Pharma account on Twitter retweeting another user’s post makes the Pharma company responsible for that content. However, what about the rest of the content on that stream? Is that all considered endorsed by the Pharma company?

Twitter retweets provide many links to full profiles

In the example above I have retweeted a PhRMA post. The post itself and its link would be considered an endorsement by the FDA (if I was a Pharma brand) but what about the links embedded in the presentation of the Tweet? These links are:

Can the Pharma company be held responsible for all of the links that expand out from this one piece of social content? This problem will not go away or be containable on social media platforms because they are created to encourage sharing, not constrain it.

Our interpretation here is that no, the Pharma company cannot be held responsible. The argument is that all of this other activity is on other Twitter profiles and the links are part of the tool, not created by the Pharma company itself. That has to be the “line in the sand” or we would end up being responsible for the entire internet.

Best practice

Obviously, a Pharma property must only link to posts that conform to FDA regulations and which are aligned with its interests, however it should not be afraid of the rest of the internet. Our position is that Pharma needs to be free to express its agreement and appreciation of relevant, compliant materials.

Like Facebook and traditional websites, try to link to individual posts and only link to profiles with which you have an agreement. Want an easy way to get agreement? Just use the “d” direct message feature in Twitter.



More About the Author

Brad Einarsen

Brad is Klick's Senior Director leading the social practice. His group ensures that clients get the best bang for their buck on the social platforms.

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