AUTH/3361/6/20 - Anonymous v Merck Sharp & Dohme

Meeting advertised on LinkedIn

  • Received
    08 June 2020
  • Case number
  • Applicable Code year
  • Completed
    04 February 2021
  • No breach Clause(s)
  • Additional sanctions
  • Appeal
    No appeal

Case Summary

An anonymous individual complained about the advertising of a pharmaceutical meeting through the LinkedIn profile of Merck Sharp & Dohme in the UK. The material in question invited UK health professionals and other relevant NHS stakeholders to join a panel of experts discussing the management of type 2 diabetes in patients with established cardiovascular disease. It was stated that the promotional meeting had been organized and funded by Merck Sharp & Dohme, whose products would be discussed.

The complainant stated that although the advertisement stated that the meeting was for ‘health professionals and other relevant NHS stakeholders’, it could be viewed by others and would encourage them to try and register for the meeting. The material had been brought to the complainant’s attention by his/her brother who had diabetes; the advertisement had appeared on his LinkedIn feed and he was disappointed that he was unable to register for the meeting.

The complainant stated that he/she thought it was very important that patients’ social media feeds were not targeted by pharmaceutical companies, especially if recipients were not allowed to attend the advertised meetings.

The detailed response from Merck Sharp & Dohme is given below.

The Panel noted Merck Sharp & Dohme’s submission that the targeted LinkedIn post was only visible to those who met all of the pre-specified criteria using a LinkedIn algorithm; it would not appear on the Merck Sharp & Dohme UK LinkedIn feed which was visible to anyone. According to Merck Sharp & Dohme, the targeted post would only appear on the feed of recipients’ networks if it was shared; this limited the risk of content appearing to those other than the original targeted audience. Merck Sharp & Dohme had also disabled the ability for viewers to comment on the targeted post.

The Panel noted the criteria used by Merck Sharp & Dohme to ensure that the targeted post was delivered to an appropriate audience. An algorithm was programmed to ensure that the post was sent to those from whose job titles (doctor, nurse practitioner etc), company industries (medical practice, hospital and health care and pharmaceuticals), skills set (diabetes care, diabetes nursing etc) and age (over 25) it could be reasonably assumed that they would have a professional interest in the subject matter of the meeting. The Panel noted that all four of the pre-specified criteria had to be met before the post was shown.

The Panel noted from the evidence provided that it appeared that four individuals, none of whom were health professionals had seen the advertisement but noted Merck Sharp & Dohme’s submission, following correspondence with LinkedIn, that it appeared from the screenshot provided by the complainant that the complainant’s brother might not have directly received the content from Merck Sharp & Dohme but rather from a targeted recipient having shared it.

The Panel noted that there was no evidence to show that Merck Sharp & Dohme was directly responsible for the complainant’s brother being able to view the targeted LinkedIn post. The company had not failed to maintain high standards. The Panel ruled no breaches of the Code.