This post was written by Dana Blanton.

On November 12 and 13, 2009, the FDA hosted public hearings to vet the potential need for regulation of prescription pharmaceutical and medical device marketing on social media outlets such as YouTube, Wikipedia, Facebook, and Twitter. The FDA specifically sought input on these five questions: (1) For what online communications are manufacturers, packers or distributors accountable? (2) How can manufacturers, packers, or distributors fulfill regulatory requirements in their Internet and social media promotion, particularly when using tools that are associated with space limitations and tools that allow for real-time communications? (3) What parameters should apply to the posting of corrective information on Web sites controlled by third parties? (4) When is the use of links appropriate? and (5) Questions specific to Internet adverse event reporting.

The hearings attracted both internet and ethical drug and device industry giants, as well as nonprofit organizations seeking to gain a better understanding of what will certainly be a new frontier for advertising these regulated products. The FDA’s existing regulations for print and television advertising are widely considered unsuitable for social media outlets, some of which allow for no more than 140 characters per post–far too few to include FDA-mandated safety information–and most of which allow for uncensored layperson commentary sometimes indistinguishable from manufacturer content. As a result, pharma and medical device representatives reported, drug and device companies have been reluctant to venture into the social media advertising field. Meanwhile, media and marketing firms offered pre-packaged advertising solutions and industry critics suggested that the FDA and pharmaceutical and device companies should bear the burden of correcting misinformation on third party websites and blogs. The FDA will consider the commentary and determine whether guidelines should be promulgated.

Information on the hearing, including background, further information regarding the five issues presented, a link to transcripts of the FDA’s 1996 hearing on internet advertising and other information may be found in the Federal Register Notice for the hearing and transcripts of the November 12 and 13, 2009 hearings will be available by approximately December 13, 2009.