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Let us start by apologizing to the Bard and my 8th grade English teacher for the headline. It’s a good way to ask the question of how closely nutritional supplement companies can connect with the fast-moving world of social media. Should you Tweet about a new ingredient? What happens when an unidentified person posts that your product cured his illness? What if a customer posts online — with photos — evidence of an adverse reaction to your product?

The FDA will address these questions at a hearing Nov. 12-13 in Washington. The agency is soliciting comments in the Federal Register “to help guide FDA in making policy decisions on the promotion of human and animal prescription drugs and biologics and medical devices using the Internet and social media tools.”

Good luck, regulators. The techies who created Twitter, Facebook and their ilk cannot keep pace with technological and user-driven changes. That’s what happens when you put control in the hands of the people.

There is no crowdsourcing at the FDA, but the agency uses Twitter to release news on drugs and medical devices, and to announce recalls. Clearly, someone inside the FDA has a teenage son or daughter.

The FDA now recognizes that it is playing catch-up and writes in the Federal Registry that “special characteristics of Web 2.0 and other emerging technologies may require the agency to provide additional guidance to the industry on how the regulations should be applied.”

May require additional guidance? The agency must know that social media are spreading from computers to cell phones. The FDA’s alternative to writing rules is to dole them out through warning letters and the like. Guidelines would benefit everyone. The Federal Register is so last century, though. How about a Fan Page for suggestions?


Joel B. Rothman represents clients in intellectual property infringement litigation involving patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, defamation, trade libel, unfair competition, unfair and deceptive trade practices, and commercial matters. Joel’s litigation practice also includes significant focus on electronic discovery issues such as e-discovery management and motion practice relating to e-discovery.