Russian Billionaires Lost More Than $126 Billion In Wealth Amid Ukraine Invasion

Update: Forbes Real-Time feed updates exchange rates once a day at 9:30 a.m. After factoring in the tumble of the Russian ruble against the U.S. on Thursday, Forbes estimates that Russian billionaires have lost more than $126 billion in wealth since February 16, compared to our initial report of a nearly $90 billion loss. Numbers throughout have been changed to reflect the plunging value of Russia’s currency.

Russian President Vladimir Putin summoned some of the nation’s business leaders today to a meeting at the Kremlin. At the meeting were at least 13 billionaires: Vagit Alekperov, Pyotr Aven, Andrei Bokarev, Andrei Guriev, Mikhail Gutseriev, Suleiman Kerimov, Andrey Melnichenko, Leonid Mikhelson, Alexey Mordashov, Vadim Moshkovich, Vladimir Potanin, Dmitry Pumpyansky and Vladimir Yevtushenkov, according to state-owned news agency TASS.

“What is happening is a necessary measure,” he reportedly told them. “We were simply left with no chance to do otherwise.”

None of the billionaires have apparently commented, some likely too scared of Putin to speak out against the invasion. But they are not immune.

His attack on Ukraine has not only wreaked havoc on Ukraine, it has destabilized markets around the world and hit the fortunes of even his closest allies. Tens of billions of dollars have been wiped from the fortunes of Russia’s billionaire elite as the country’s stock market and the ruble plunged after President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Russia’s roughly 116 billionaires have lost more than $126 billion since February 16, Forbes calculates. Of that, an estimated $71 billion was wiped out on Thursday, after Russia’s Moex index closed down 33% and the ruble plunged to a record low against the dollar. The threat of sanctions extending beyond the small circle of billionaire oligarchs and businesses already targeted by the United States, United Kingdom, and European Union could bite further into the fortunes of Russia’s richest.

At least five of the billionaires at the Kremlin Thursday – Alekperov, Mikhelson, Mordashov, Potanin and Kerimov – were among the day’s biggest billionaire losers. Altogether at least 11 Russian billionaires lost $1 billion or more each on Thursday.Lukoil’s Vagit Alekperov was the biggest billionaire loser from the Moscow Stock Exchange sell off sparked by President Putin’s order to invade Ukraine.

Alekperov, a former Caspain oil sea rig worker and former Soviet oil minister who set up Lukoil, Russia’s largest independent oil producer, was the biggest loser. He saw $4.2 billion, or around 17.1% of his fortune, disappear as Russian oil and gas stocks plunged. Lukoil shares, which are listed in London and Moscow, are down more than 30% since the start of the military build up to the invasion.

Lukoil was targeted by the U.S. along with other Russian energy companies like state-owned Rosneft in 2014 by financial and technological sanctions over Russia’s seizure of Crimea and could again be targeted by Washington, Brussels and London.

‘Londongrad’ Sanctions

Billionaire Gennady Timchenko, who was targeted this week by British sanctions, was also among those whose fortunes took the biggest hits. Timchenko, who owns stakes in various Russian businesses, including gas company Novatek and petrochemicals producer Sibur, saw around $4.2 billion wiped from his fortune.

Timchenko, who is still worth more than $19 billion, was named as a part of Putin’s “inner circle” in sanctions imposed by the U.S. Treasury after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March 2014. Those sanctions led Timchenko, who claims to have met Putin in the early 1990s, to sell his 43% stake in Gunvor, then the world’s fourth largest oil trading group.

The U.S. had claimed that Putin himself had investments in Gunvor and may have had access to the group’s funds, allegations denied by the Geneva-based trading house. Gunvor has disputed that allegation.VTB Capital has offices in the heart of London’s financial district and today was named in new sanctions imposed after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The British government earlier this week also sanctioned three other super wealthy Russians , including Putin’s former son-in-law (and former billionaire) Kirill Shamalov. Following Russian strikes on Ukraine it also announced an asset freeze of Russia’s banks, and a ban on Russian nationals from holding more than $66,000 (50,000 pounds) in a U.K. bank account.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also reportedly pushed Western leaders to go further and eject Russia from the SWIFT international payments system, one of the main pipelines for international finance and banking. Czech President Milos Zeman, once one of Putin’s keenest supporters in Europe, also called for Russia to be cut out from SWIFT for a “crime against peace” despite hesitance from some European leaders over the economic fallout for all parties of locking Russian businesses and energy companies out of the payments system.

British opposition lawmakers called for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to go further and seize the assets of the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. The billionaire owner of Premier League soccer team Chelsea FC, who made his fortune in Russia’s oil industry after the fall of the Soviet Union, has repeatedly become caught in the long-running diplomatic tensions between London and Moscow.

“We have more individuals on our list, who we are ready to sanction,” U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told LBC radio on Wednesday when questioned if Abramovich was a target for sanctions. “Nobody is off the table.”

Abramovich, who had more than $1 billion wiped from his fortune this week, is reportedly without a British visa after his entrepreneur visa reportedly expired in 2018, but has been able to visit his soccer team thanks to newly acquired,  Portuguese citizenships. Any moves the British government makes towards his ownership of his beloved soccer team could be threatened by a $2 billion loan he made to Chelsea. Sports fans and many others will be watching.

Russia’s Big Losers  (measures Thursday’s one day drop)Leonid Mikhelson

Down $4.5 billion, – 16.5%

Major shareholder of gas producer Novatek.

Vagit Alekperov

Down $4.2 billion, – 17.1%

Former Caspian oil sea rig worker and former Soviet oil minister is chairman of Russia’s largest independent oil company, Lukoil.

Alexey Mordashov

Down $4.2 billion, – 14.4%

Majority shareholder in steel company Severstal, which he ran for 19 years as CEO.

Gennady Timchenko

Down $4.2 billion, -18.1%

Timchenko was hit with sanctions on Tuesday after Putin deployed forces to the two regions in eastern Ukraine.

Vladimir Lisin

Down $4.1 billion, – 13.5%

Chairman of NLMK Group, a leading manufacturer of steel products.

 Suleiman Kerimov

Down $3.2 billion, – 22.7%

A trained economist, Kerimov made a career investing in distressed companies in Russia. Most of his fortune now comes from his family’s stake in Russia’s biggest gold producer, Polyus.

Vladimir Potanin

Down $3 billion, – 10.7%

Named as a close associate of the Russian president by the U.S. Treasury in 2018, most of his fortune is held in mining giant Norilsk Nickel.

Oleg Tinkov

Down $2 billion, – 52.2%

The founder of Russian bank, Tinkoff, was sentenced last year for filing a false tax return and agree to pay more than half a billion to the U.S. government. .

Mikhail Shelkov

Down $1.7 billion, – 38.9%

Former head of the investment division of state-owned Rostec, which controlled military contractors in Russia, he now gets most of his fortune from his stake in VSMPO-AVISMA, the world’s largest titanium producer for the aerospace industry.

Leonid Fedun

Down $1.4 billion, – 14.2%

Former military man-turned-financial whiz is Alekperov’s right hand man at Lukoil.

Roman Abramovich

Down $1.2 billion, – 8.4%

British opposition lawmakers have demanded the seizure of Abramovich’s assets including Chelsea football club. It won’t be so easy.

Send me a secure tip.

I joined Forbes as the Europe News Editor and will be working with the London newsroom to define our coverage of emerging businesses and leaders across the UK and Europe. Prior to joining Forbes, I worked for the news agency Storyful as its Asia Editor working from its Hong Kong bureau, and as a Senior Editor in London, where I reported on breaking news stories from around the world, with a special focus on how misinformation and disinformation spreads on social media platforms. I started my career in London as a financial journalist with Citywire and my work has appeared in the BBC, Sunday Times, and many more UK publications. Email me story ideas, or tips, to iain.martin@forbes.com, or Twitter @_iainmartin.

Source: Russian Billionaires Lost More Than $126 Billion In Wealth Amid Ukraine Invasion

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Critics:

The fortunes of Russia’s super-rich have tumbled $32 billion this year, with the escalating conflict in Ukraine poised to make that wealth destruction much larger.

U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday unleashed sanctions targeting Russia’s sale of sovereign debt abroad and the country’s elites, and said he’s sending an unspecified number of additional U.S. troops to the Baltics in a defensive move to defend NATO countries.

Gennady Timchenko heads the list of Russian who have seen their fortunes drop, with almost a third of his wealth disappearing this year, according to the Bloomberg Index, a listing of the world’s 500 richest people.

Timchenko, 69, the son of a Soviet military officer who met and befriended Russian Federation President during the early 1990s, now has a fortune of about $16 billion, with the bulk of his wealth derived from a stake in Russia gas producer Novatek, according to Bloomberg’s wealth index.

ALSO READ: West preps more sanctions if Russia launches full-scale Ukraine invasion

Fellow Novatek shareholder Leonid Mikhelson’s fortune has tumbled $6.2 billion this year, while Lukoil Chairman Vagit Alekperov’s net worth has declined about $3.5 billion in the same period as the energy company’s stock has slid almost 17%.

The country’s 23 currently have a net worth of $343 billion, according to the wealth list, down from $375 billion at year-end.

Markets slumped further this week after Putin recognized two separatist republics in Ukraine, leading to Germany halting an energy project with Russia and the U.K. imposing sanctions on five of the country’s banks and three of its wealthy individuals, including Timchenko.

Also on the U.K.’s sanctions list are Boris Rotenberg, 65, and his nephew, Igor, 48, whose families made their fortune through gas-pipeline construction firm Stroygazmontazh.

Igor’s father, Arkady, one of Putin’s former judo sparring partners, sold the pipeline firm in 2019 for about $1.3 billion. He purchased a minority stake from his younger brother Boris five years earlier when both siblings and Timchenko were hit with U.S. sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Additionally, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday he wouldn’t meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov this week because it “does not make sense” given Russia’s moves in Ukraine.

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Botox, Billionaires, and Bitcoin: 2021 In Charts

This year, mercifully, saw quite a few notable improvements over the last. In 2021, vaccines became widely available, and many of the experiences we had to forgo in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, have begun to return in the second. Unemployment is low, and wages are rising.

That’s not to say we’re out of the woods with the pandemic. In fact, more Americans died of Covid-19 in 2021 than in 2020. And, motivated by widespread misinformation, a sizable portion of the eligible population still has not gotten a vaccine, even as variants like delta and omicron make it hard to feel at ease. Meanwhile, the richest Americans are accumulating even more wealth, and high inflation rates are making everyone’s money worth less.

Of course, many of this year’s trends existed long before the pandemic, though the public health crisis has certainly kicked some into high gear. What follows is a series of charts that attempt to illustrate some of the major trends of 2021. All data is from what was available in mid-December.

Vaccination rates are rising, but they may never be high enough

Currently, about 61 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated, while 72 percent have received at least one dose. That rate is lower than much of the rest of the developed world, trailing China, Canada, and the UK, among others. While vaccination numbers have steadily ticked upward, thanks to a combination of public health campaigns and employer mandates, a good chunk of Americans — 13 percent — say they’ll never get the vaccine.

As such, it’s unlikely the United States will ever reach full herd immunity. Experts have estimated we’d need at least a 90 percent vaccination rate for the disease to eventually disappear, which is a far cry from current levels. Instead, Covid-19 will probably persist even after the most acute aspects of the public health emergency recede.

Work as it was wasn’t working out

There’s nothing like a pandemic to put things in perspective. After enduring the tragedy and trials of the past two years, many Americans are rethinking the importance of work in their lives. They’re reconsidering the types of work they do, how that work is done, and whether they want or need to work at all.

That’s led people to quit their jobs at record rates, and a confluence of factors is leaving millions of open jobs unfilled, especially low-paying or otherwise unattractive work. Of course, as the remnants of government benefits and elevated rates of savings slip away, these options will become less feasible. For now, though, the workers seem to have the upper hand.

Wages are rising because they have to

Worker power is most apparent in rising wages. In November, average hourly earnings for private employees rose to $26.40 for non-managers — up nearly 6 percent from the year before and high above typical levels of growth. Some of the biggest gains could be found in industries with the lowest wages, illustrating how the need for workers in less desirable industries is helping drive up what those workers make. The Conference Board expects wages to grow another 4 percent next year.

Lest the news seem too good, remember that high rates of inflation are cutting into real wage growth. Real average hourly wages were down nearly 2 percent in November, when adjusted for growth in the Consumer Price Index.

The return to the office has been pushed back

The return to the office was slated for this fall. However, after the arrival of the delta and omicron variants, January 2022 or “TBD” have become the new September 2021. Office occupancy among the biggest metro areas is at just 40 percent of what it was pre-pandemic, according to data from office keycard company Kastle Systems.

Some companies are deciding to go fully remote while others, more commonly, are electing for a hybrid model, where some workers go into the office some of the time. What that means for the future of office real estate is uncertain, but what’s clear is that remote work has become a perk to attract and retain workers, factoring in somewhere between higher pay and paid vacation. It’s also a trend that’s likely to stick around, even beyond the pandemic.

Unions are more popular than they’ve been in decades

Despite declining for years to just 11 percent of workers in 2020, some leading indicators suggest union membership could tick up in 2021. Popular approval of unions has grown to its highest level in half a century, according to annual polls from Gallup.

This year, a number of union actions, including 248 strikes as of early December according to Cornell’s Labor Action Tracker, as well as several very high-profile unionizing efforts at Amazon and Starbucks, have kept unions in the news. Additionally, legislation that passed the House and is currently in the Senate could make it much easier for employees to unionize in the future.

Antitrust action isn’t stopping mergers

The government has been taking a tougher antitrust stance in the past few years, increasingly suing companies for anti-competitive behavior and even threatening to break up Big Tech. That, however, hasn’t stopped these companies from trying to acquire other companies. In fiscal year 2021, there were 3,644 large merger transactions recorded — the highest number in two decades — according to preliminary data from the Federal Trade Commission, which requires companies to report potential mergers of a certain size. Even Facebook, which could be forced by the government to divest from previous acquisitions like WhatsApp and Instagram, has been on an acquisition spree.

While some of the jump in transactions can be explained by pandemic-related delays caused in 2020, the sheer number of pre-merger filings in 2021 is still way higher than it’s been in twenty years. Don’t expect this trend to stop anytime soon. Fiscal year 2022, which started in October, already has more than 1,000 merger notices.

It’s getting easier to hate billionaires

The owners of some of the biggest businesses are facing scrutiny as well. About half of Americans have a negative view of billionaires. It certainly doesn’t help the case of billionaires that their wealth swelled 70 percent during a global pandemic that left millions dead and many millions more out of work. The top 1 percent of Americans by wealth control a third of all household wealth in the US, up from about a quarter in the 1990s, according to data from the Federal Reserve. As more wealth gets concentrated in fewer hands, those whose hands aren’t flush are going to get more upset.

Crypto grew up, maybe

Still, others wish they could replicate that wealth, and they helped make 2021 the year cryptocurrency went mainstream. This year, crypto buying and selling platform Coinbase became the first major cryptocurrency company to go public in the United States, giving investors on the regular stock market a chance to invest in a crypto company.

Average Americans are also increasingly investing in cryptocurrencies themselves, through mainstream platforms like Square and PayPal as well as Robinhood and Coinbase. More than one in 10 Americans invested in cryptocurrency this year, according to a survey by NORC at the University of Chicago. Similarly, NFTs, digital assets whose ownership can be tracked using blockchain technology, have also surged in popularity.

By and large, crypto investors have seen the price of their assets increase this year — if they’ve been holding since the beginning of the year. The price of bitcoin, for example, was up 68 percent as of mid-December and had been up over 100 percent earlier in the year, according to CoinDesk. Dogecoin, which isn’t worth anywhere near as much, was up nearly 3,700 percent (so high, we didn’t include it in the chart, lest it eclipse everything else). Cryptocurrencies are notoriously volatile, moving on everything from rumors of government regulation to an Elon Musk tweet, so a riches story can turn to rags real quick.

With meme stocks, the joke is on everyone

This year, amateur investors, trading on sites like Robinhood and getting financial advice from Reddit, have taken the stock market by storm. Through coordinated efforts loosely designed to disrupt Wall Street and hedge funds, they brought the price of so-called meme stocks up to levels not seen in years, if ever (though lately they’ve experienced a bit of a meltdown). The price of these nostalgic assets — often of companies that would have been more at home in a 2000s-era mall than a stock portfolio — grew untethered from their underlying financials, as their fate rests in diamond hands.

The supply chain entered popular parlance

Demand for goods is surging, but supply chain issues including clogged ports and a lack of workers are keeping that demand from being met. Supply delays hit record levels in October, according to data from information firm IHS Markit, which compiles an index of supplier delivery times. These supply chain issues have resulted in longer waits, less selection, higher prices, and generally lots of headaches. In turn, the term “supply chain” has transitioned from business jargon to popular parlance.

Inflation is popping

When delivery times rise, so do prices. Inflation was up 6.8 percent in November compared with a year ago, its highest annual rate since the early 1980s. Whether it’s true inflation or just supply chain stuff isn’t clear. What is clear is that Americans will have to spend a lot more than usual on everything from food to fuel to festivities this holiday season.

No news is good news

Since the start of the pandemic, many of us have been trapped at home and glued to the news, but after a tumultuous start of the year, our readership is returning to more normal levels, according to data from Parse.ly, which showed us page views from a sample of its customers like Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, and Medium.

We read insatiably about the pandemic, but also about our former president. Publisher page views reached a record high on November 4, 2020, the day after Election Day; they also spiked during the Capitol riot. Since then, page views are down among the sample but still higher than they used to be.

ESG is the new WTF

One of the biggest corporate buzzwords this year was ESG, which stands for environmental, social, and governance criteria, both for running a company and investing in those companies. Thanks to an increased appetite for this type of investment, ESG and related terms skyrocketed this year on company earnings calls as leaders strove to make employees and investors aware of their commitment to ethical values.

The problem is that the terms are so loose — and loosely governed — as to be meaningless. Some investments marketed as ESG can be far from socially or environmentally righteous, including companies that profit from everything from private prisons to fossil fuels. Socially responsible governance and investing is certainly positive, but it requires more than following the latest marketing to achieve.

Event attendance is up but mostly not back to normal

Thanks to widespread vaccinations, people started to attend events in person again this year. Activities that were completely off-limits in the first year of the pandemic are becoming popular again in the second. Festival attendance in the US has surpassed pre-pandemic levels in the second half of 2021, according to data from demand forecast company PredictHQ, partly because outdoor events are safer than indoor ones. Most other types of events, however, are still recovering.

It’s harder than ever to know what’s in or out, but that won’t stop us from trying

Thanks to the ephemerality of social media, trends are going in and out of fashion faster than ever. What was all the rage one moment can be forgotten by our collective memory the next (hi, TikTok pasta!). Add in a global pandemic putting the state of the world and everything in it in flux, and it can be very difficult to make heads or tails of popular consumption.

That’s why it’s always fun to take a look at Google Trends to try and guess what will be hot next and what’s already been left behind. We took a closer look thanks to the financial platform Sentieo, which stacks Google trends by year to see how this year’s trends compared to last year’s. But don’t bother trying to figure out what jeans or hair parts are cool — because that’s personal to you.

Rani Molla

By: Ronni Molla

Source: Botox, billionaires, and bitcoin: 2021 in charts – Vox

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How To Read The News Like a Scientist

Overwhelmed by your news feed? Use tools from science to evaluate what’s true and what’s fake, suggests researcher Emma Frans.

In our daily reading, we encounter all kinds of claims. Depending on the news story and the week, Chinese imports, coffee, large-cap stocks, snacking, and eggs should be embraced — or they should be avoided altogether. What’s a person to do when bombarded with confusing, contradictory information?

Try thinking like a scientist, says Emma Frans, who’s an epidemiology and psychiatry researcher at Oxford University in the UK and Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.

“In present times, our risk of being fooled is especially high,” she says. There are two main factors at play: “Disinformation spreads like wildfire in social media,” she adds, “and when it comes to news reporting, sometimes it is more important for journalists to be fast than accurate.”

Which is why it’s useful to know how to evaluate news the way a scientist does. Scientists labor under a burden of proof. They must conduct experiments and collect data under controlled conditions to arrive at their conclusions — and be ready to defend their findings with facts, not emotions.

“We all have gut feelings and biases that sometimes cloud our judgment,” says Frans. But scientific thinking offers us tools for “evaluating information in a rational way.”

Try these 6 tips to read the news like a scientist:

1. Cultivate Your Skepticism

Science moves forward by challenging accepted wisdom. You can do the same. When you learn a new piece of information through social media, think to yourself: “This may be true, but it also may be false,” Frans says. “This kind of healthy skepticism does not mean you’re dismissing everything as false — it simply means remembering the things you hear could be false, but they could also be true … or they could be something in between.”

2. Find out Who Is Making the Claim

“In science, researchers have to declare potential conflicts of interest before publishing their findings,” says Frans. When you encounter a new claim, look for conflicts of interest. Ask: Do they stand to profit from what they say? Are they affiliated with an organization that could be swaying them? Two other questions to consider: What makes the writer or speaker qualified to comment on the topic? What statements have they made in the past?

3. Watch out for the Halo Effect

The halo effect, says Frans, “is a cognitive bias that makes our feeling towards someone affect how we judge their claims. If we dislike someone, we are a lot more likely to disagree with them; if we like them, we are biased to agree.” It’s such a common human trait that the scientific community has devised a workaround: New scientific papers under review are read “blind,” with the authors’ names removed.

That way, the experts who are deciding whether it’s worthy of publication don’t know which of their fellow scientists wrote it so they’ll be able to react free from pre-judgement or bias. You can try this with your own news feed, too. Maybe you’ve read about a jobs policy proposed by the candidate you favor, and you think it sounds good. Frans suggests, “Simply question how you would consider the claim if it came from someone else.”

4. Look at the Evidence

When evaluating a claim, Frans asks, “Can the sources be traced? Are they reliable? Is the conclusion based on a rational evaluation of the information?” And you should try to consider all of the research on a topic. She says, “For instance, if there is one study claiming that drinking wine is just as good for your health as going to the gym, this finding is not relevant if ninety-nine studies show the opposite.” Before you act on or share a particularly surprising or enraging story, do a quick Google search — you might learn something even more interesting.

5. Beware of the Tendency to Cherry-Pick Information

Another human bias — confirmation bias — means we’re more likely to notice stories or facts that fit what we already believe (or want to believe). As Frans says, “When you search for information, you should not disregard the information that goes against whatever opinion you might have in advance.” Some scientists combat this by seeking out collaborators who, as management thinker Margaret Heffernan puts it, “aren’t echo chambers.”

These are people who will actively try to prove you wrong and can help you check your ideas and assumptions. In your own life, look for friends and acquaintances on social media with alternative viewpoints. You don’t have to agree with them, or tolerate misinformation from them — but it’s healthy and balanced to have some variety in your information diet.

6. Recognize the Difference Between Correlation and Causation

Frans researches ADHD and autism, and, she notes, in recent decades, “the number of individuals diagnosed with these disorders have increased rapidly.” Many possible causes have been raised, including vaccinations, video games and junk food. However, she says, “there is no evidence supporting these claims, and it’s important to remember that just because two things increase simultaneously, this does not mean that they are causally linked to each other. Correlation does not equal causality.”

Keep this in mind when thinking about our world. For example, if there is a rise in violent crime in your area and it’s being blamed on gang activity, or if a politician is credited with creating a low unemployment rate, take a wider view and look into the other contributing factors. Frans says, “It’s important to remember that there might be alternative explanations to a phenomenon.”

By: TED Ideas Daniella Balarezo & Daryl Chen

Daniella Balarezo is a Media Fellow at TEDx. She is also a writer and comedian based in NYC. Daryl Chen is the Ideas Editor at TED.

Source: How to Read the News Like a Scientist

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More Contents:

“The corpse factory and the birth of fake news”

Fifty-Two Public Health Groups Demand Facebook Remove Latest Round of ‘Frightening’ HIV Ads

Fifty-two public health companies and LGBTQ organizations wrote a public letter to Facebook Monday demanding it remove misleading advertisements about HIV prevention medicine.

The posts imply that HIV-negative people could suffer health complications from prevention pills only seen in a shrinking group of HIV-positive people, thus deterring them from treatment, the letter claims.

Advocacy groups say that they’re not able to spend a comparable sum on counteradvertising and that Facebook should consider the real-world implications of the ads, which in effect make HIV transmissions more widespread.

Facebook told The Washington Post that its third-party fact-checkers didn’t find falsehoods in the campaign, which is largely pushed by private injury attorneys.

Indeed, a component of Truvada, the only Food and Drug Administration–approved prevention medicine for HIV, has been shown to cause kidney failure and bone density problems in people with HIV treated between 2001 and 2015. The ads don’t include these details and instead reference Truvada more broadly.

Misleading HIV campaigns are nothing new, according to Rich Ferraro, a spokesperson for GLAAD, the national LGBTQ advocacy group that helped spearhead the letter’s demands. He said GLAAD, formerly the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, was founded in the 1980s because of the “misinformation and disgusting coverage of HIV” at the time.

“Since GLAAD’s founding almost 35 years ago, we have worked together with other leaders in the HIV and AIDS activism community fighting back against misinformation, factual inaccuracies and stigmatizing ads,” Ferraro added.

More broadly, today’s HIV campaigns are also noteworthy for what they don’t include—the fact that people with HIV are living very long and healthy lives when taking the proper medications, Ferraro said. “That has been a proactive push that has yet to catch on in mainstream media,” he said.

In 2013, the National Library of Medicine launched a traveling exhibit examining the “confusing and at-times counterproductive” response in the 1980s to the HIV epidemic. In its digital gallery, posters, comic books and postcards offer a range of warnings about HIV transmission.

Some have withstood the test of time, like one campaign by the New York State Department of Health that clarifies that HIV “does not discriminate.” Rather, anyone, male or female, straight or gay, can pick up the virus from shared needles or unprotected sex.

But some warned that AIDS causes blindness or endorsed masturbation in lieu of having sex with strangers. Others associated sex with death more directly, like one poster by AID Atlanta that depicts a handsome young man above a caption that reads: “This man killed 17 women and loved every minute of it,” implying he passed HIV to women during intercourse.

Advertisements abroad could be even more sinister. One featured a grim reaper, meant to represent the deadly HIV virus, that came after men, women and children in a bowling alley. Commissioned by the Australian government with that country’s National Advisory Committee on AIDS, it was pulled in 1987 amid a backlash.

While less dramatic than ads from decades past, the “frightening” Facebook campaigns are doing more damage, according to Peter Staley, a co-founder of PrEP4All Collaboration and longtime AIDS activist. “I must say, this is in a class of its own. This example, we think, is directly spreading HIV,” he said.

The campaigns also target LGBTQ communities and people of color because of their higher rates of HIV infection, according to Raniyah Copeland, president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute. These groups already have more medical distrust than their white or straight counterparts, Copeland said.

One such post features a person of color with a somber look on his face. It lists side effects from “taking an HIV drug,” such as “kidney disorders,” and claims “the manufacturers had a safer drug & kept it secret.” Another features a young white man with his eyes closed and hands clasped. It reads: “Truvada & other TDF drugs prescribed to prevent or treat HIV may harm kidneys and bones.”

Both feature links to law firms or ongoing lawsuits.

In the letter, the advocacy groups asked Facebook to remove the ads and commit to a review of current policies meant to prevent false public health statements from reaching users.

Facebook relies on its independent fact-checkers, including those from the Associated Press and conservative website the Daily Caller, to vet dubious claims, the Post reported.

Asked whether HIV advertisements should be treated with stricter standards, a Facebook spokesperson told Newsweek that its fact-checkers were all certified by the International Fact-Checking Network, which maintains a commitment to nonpartisanship and fairness in its code of principles.

“Since we don’t think it’s appropriate for us to be the arbiters of truth, we rely on the International Fact-Checking Network to set guidelines for these high standards,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

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Source: Fifty-Two Public Health Groups Demand Facebook Remove Latest Round of ‘Frightening’ HIV Ads

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